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SCHOPENHAUER is one of the few philosophers 
who can be generally understood without a com 
mentary. All his theories claim to be drawn direct 
from the facts, to be suggested by observation, and 
to interpret the world as it is; and whatever view 
he takes, he is constant in his appeal to the experi 
ence of common life. This characteristic endows 
his style with a freshness and vigor which would be 
difficult to match in the philosophical writing of 
any country, and impossible in that of Germany. 
If it were asked whether there were any circum 
stances apart from heredity, to which he owed his 
mental habit, the answer might be found in the ab 
normal character of his early education, his ac 
quaintance with the world rather than with books, 
the extensive travels of his boyhood, his ardent 
pursuit of knowledge for its own sake and without 
regard to the emoluments and endowments of learn 
ing. He was trained in realities even more than 
in ideas; and hence he is original, forcible, clear, 
an enemy of all philosophic indefiniteness and ob 
scurity; so that it may well be said of him, in the 
words of a writer in the Revue Contemporaine, ce 
riest pas un philosophe comme les autres, c est un 
philosophe qui a vn le monde. 

It is not my purpose, nor would it be possible 
within the limits of a prefatory note, to attempt 
an account of Schopenhauer s philosophy, to indi 
cate its sources, or to suggest or rebut the objec 
tions which may be taken to it. M. Ribot, in his 



polytheism or pantheism, but in so far as they 
recognize pessimism or optimism as the true de 
scription of life. Hence any religion which looked 
upon the world as being radically evil appealed to 
him as containing an indestructible element of 
truth. I have endeavored to present his view of 
two of the great religions of the world in the extract 
which concludes this volume, and to which I have 
given the title of The Christian System. The tenor 
of it is to show that, however little he may have 
been in sympathy with the supernatural element, 
he owed much to the moral doctrines of Christianity 
and of Buddhism, between which he traced great 
resemblance. In the following Dialogue he applies 
himself to a discussion of the practical efficacy of 
religious forms; and though he was an enemy of 
clericalism, his choice of a method which allows both 
the affirmation and the denial of that efficacy to be 
presented with equal force may perhaps have been 
directed by the consciousness that he could not side 
with either view to the exclusion of the other. In 
any case his practical philosophy was touched with 
the spirit of Christianity. It was more than artistic 
enthusiasm which led him in profound admiration 
to the Madonna di San Sisto: 

Sie tragt zur Welt ihn, und er schaut entsetzt 
In ihrer Grau l chaotische Verwirrung, 
In ihres Tobens wilde Raserei, 
In ihres Treibens nie geheilte Thorheit, 
In ihrer Quaalen nie gestillten Schmerz; 
Entsetzt: doch strahlet Ruh and Zuversicht 
Und Siegesglanz sein Aug , verktindigend 
Schon der Erlosung ewige gewissheit. 

Pessimism is commonly and erroneously sup 
posed to be the distinguishing feature of Schopen 
hauer s system. It is right to remember that the 
same fundamental view of the world is presented 


by Christianity, to say nothing of Oriental re 

That Schopenhauer conceives life as an evil is a 
deduction, arid possibly a mistaken deduction, from 
his metaphysical theory. Whether his scheme of 
things is correct or not and it shares the common 
fate of all metaphysical systems in being unveri- 
fiable, and to that extent unprofitable he will in 
the last resort have made good his claim to be read 
by his insight into the varied needs of human life. 
It may be that a future age will consign his meta 
physics to the philosophical lumber-room; but he is 
a literary artist as well as a philosopher, and he can 
make a "bid for fame in either capacity. What is 
remarked with much truth of many another writer, 
that he suggests more than he achieves, is in the 
highest degree applicable to Schopenhauer; and his 
obiter dicta, his sayings by the way, will always 
find an audience. 



Demopheles. Between ourselves, my dear fel 
low, I don t care about the way you sometimes 
have of exhibiting your talent for philosophy; you 
make religion a subject for sarcastic remarks, and 
even for open ridicule. Every one thinks his re 
ligion sacred, and therefore you ought to respect it. 

Philalethes. That doesn t follow! I don t see 
why, because other people are simpletons, I should 
have any regard for a pack of lies. I respect 
truth everywhere, and so I can t respect what is 
opposed to it. My maxim is Vigeat veritas et 
per eat mundus, like the lawyers Fiat justitia et 
per eat mundus. Every profession ought to have an 
analogous advice. 

Demopheles. Then I suppose doctors should 
say Fiant pilulae et pereat mundus, there 
wouldn t be much difficulty about that! 

Philalethes. Heaven forbid! You must take 
everything cum grano satis. 

Demopheles. Exactly; that s why I want you 
to take religion cum grano salis. I want you to 
see that one must meet the requirements of the 
people according to the measure of their compre 
hension. Where you have masses of people of 
crude susceptibilities and clumsy intelligence, 
sordid in their pursuits and sunk in drudgery, re 
ligion provides the only means of proclaiming and 


making them feel the hight import of life. For 
the average man takes an interest, primarily, in 
nothing but what will satisfy his physical needs and 
hankerings, and beyond this, give him a little 
amusement and pastime. Founders of religion and 
philosophers come into the world to rouse him from 
his stupor and point to the lofty meaning of ex 
istence; philosophers for the few, the emancipated, 
founders of religion for the many, for humanity at 
large. For, as your friend Plato has said, the 
multitude can t be philosophers, and you shouldn t 
forget that. Religion is the metaphysics of the 
masses; by all means let them keep it: let it there 
fore command external respect, for to discredit it 
is to take it away. Just as they have popular 
poetry, and the popular wisdom of proverbs, so 
they must have popular metaphysics too: for man 
kind absolutely needs an interpretation of life; and 
this, again, must be suited to popular comprehen 
sion. Consequently, this interpretation is always 
an allegorical investiture of the truth : and in prac 
tical life and in its effects on the feelings, that is 
to say, as a rule of action and as a comfort and 
consolation in suffering and death, it accomplishes 
perhaps just as much as the truth itself could 
achieve if we possessed it. Don t take offense at 
its unkempt, grotesque and apparently absurd 
form; for with your education and learning, you 
have no idea of the roundabout ways by which 
people in their crude state have to receive their 
knowledge of deep truths. The various religions 
are only various forms in which the truth, which 
taken by itself is above their comprehension, is 
grasped and realized by the masses; and truth be 
comes inseparable from these forms. Therefore, 
my dear sir, don t take it amiss if I say that to 


make a mockery of these forms is both shallow and 

Philalethes. But isn t it every bit as shallow and 
unjust to demand that there shall be no other sys 
tem of metaphysics but this one, cut out as it is 
to suit the requirements and comprehension of the 
masses ? that its doctrine shall be the limit of human 
speculation, the standard of all thought, so that 
the metaphysics of the few, the emancipated, as 
you call them, must be devoted only to confirming, 
strengthening, and explaining the metaphysics of 
the masses? that the highest powers of human in 
telligence shall remain unused and undeveloped, 
even be nipped in the bud, in order that their ac 
tivity may not thwart the popular metaphysics? 
And isn t this just the very claim which religion 
sets up ? Isn t it a little too much to have tolerance 
and delicate forbearance preached by what is in 
tolerance and cruelty itself? Think of the heretical 
tribunals, inquisitions, religious wars, crusades, 
Socrates cup of poison, Bruno s and Vanini s death 
in the flames! Is all this to-day quite a thing of 
the past? How can genuine philosophical effort, 
sincere search after truth, the noblest calling of 
the noblest men, be let and hindered more com 
pletely than by a conventional system of meta 
physics enjoying a State monopoly, the principles 
of which are impressed into every head in earliest 
youth, so earnestly, so deeply, and so firmly, that, 
unless the mind is miraculously elastic, they remain 
indelible. In this way the groundwork of all 
healthy reason is once for all deranged; that is to 
say, the capacity for original thought and unbiased 
judgment, which is weak enough in itself, is, in 
regard to those subjects to which it might be ap 
plied, for ever paralyzed and ruined. 


Demopheles. Which means, I suppose, that 
people have arrived at a conviction which they 
won t give up in order to embrace yours instead. 

Philalethcs. Ah! if it were only a conviction 
based on insight. Then one could bring arguments 
to bear, and the battle would be fought with equal 
weapons. But religions admittedly appeal, not to 
conviction as the result of argument, but to belief 
as demanded by revelation. And as the capacity 
for believing is strongest in childhood, special care 
is taken to make sure of this tender age. This has 
much more to do with the doctrines of belief taking 
root than threats and reports of miracles. If, in 
early childhood, certain fundamental views and 
doctrines are paraded with unusual solemnity, and 
an air of the greatest earnestness never before 
visible in anything else; if, at the same time, the 
possibility of a doubt about them be completely 
passed over, or touched upon only to indicate that 
doubt is the first step to eternal perdition, the 
resulting impression will be so deep that, as a rule, 
that is, in almost every case, doubt about them will 
be almost as impossible as doubt about one s own 
existence. Hardly one in ten thousand will have 
the strength of mind to ask himself seriously and 
earnestly is that true? To call such as can do 
it strong minds, esprits forts, is a description more 
apt than is generally supposed. But for the or 
dinary mind there is nothing so absurd or revolting 
but what, if inculcated in that way, the strongest 
belief in it will strike root. If, for example, the 
killing of a heretic or infidel were essential to the 
future salvation of his soul, almost every one would 
make it the chief event of his life, and in dying 
would draw consolation and strength from the re 
membrance that he had succeeded. As a matter of 


fact, almost every Spaniard in days gone by used 
to look upon an auto da fe as the most pious of all 
acts and one most agreeable to God. A parallel 
to this may be found in the way in which the Thugs 
(a religious sect in India, suppressed a short time 
ago by the English, who executed numbers of 
them) express their sense of religion and their 
veneration for the goddess Kali; they take every 
opportunity of murdering their friends and travel 
ing companions, with the object of getting posses 
sion of their goods, and in the serious conviction 
that they are thereby doing a praiseworthy action, 
conducive to their eternal welfare. 1 The power of 
religious dogma, when inculcated early, is such as 
to stifle conscience, compassion, and finally every 
feeling of humanity. But if you want to see with 
your own eyes and close at hand what timely in 
oculation will accomplish, look at the English. 
Here is a nation favored before all others by nature ; 
endowed, more than all others, with discernment, 
intelligence, power of judgment, strength of char 
acter; look at them, abased and made ridiculous, 
beyond all others, by their stupid ecclesiastical 
superstition, which appears amongst their other 
abilities like a fixed idea or monomania. For this 
they have to thank the circumstance that education 
is in the hands of the clergy, whose endeavor it is 
to impress all the articles of belief, at the earliest 
age, in a way that amounts to a kind of paralysis 
of the brain ; this in its turn expresses itself all their 
life in an idiotic bigotry, which makes otherwise 
most sensible and intelligent people amongst them 
degrade themselves so that one can t make head or 
tail of them. It you consider how essential to such 

1 Cf . Illustrations of the history and practice of the Thugs, 
London, 1837; also the Edinburg Review, Oct.-Jan., 1836-7, 


a masterpiece is inoculation in the tender age of 
childhood, the missionary system appears no longer 
only as the acme of human importunity, arrogance 
and impertinence, but also as an absurdity, if it 
doesn t confine itself to nations which are still in 
their infancy, like Caffirs, Hottentots, South Sea 
Islanders, etc. Amongst these races it is success 
ful; but in India, the Brahmans treat the discourses 
of the missionaries with contemptuous smiles of 
approbation, or simply shrug their shoulders. And 
one may say generally that the proselytizing ef 
forts of the missionaries in India, in spite of the 
most advantageous facilities, are, as a rule, a fail 
ure. An authentic report in the Vol. XXI. of 
the Asiatic Journal (1826) states that after so 
many years of missionary activity not more than 
three hundred living converts were to be found in 
the whole of India, where the population of the 
English possessions alone comes to one hundred 
and fifteen millions; and at the same time it is ad 
mitted that the Christian converts are distinguished 
for their extreme immorality. Three hundred 
venal and bribed souls out of so many millions! 
There is no evidence that things have gone better 
with Christianity in India since then, in spite of 
the fact that the missionaries are now trying, con 
trary to stipulation and in schools exclusively de 
signed for secular English instruction, to work 
upon the children s minds as they please, in order 
to smuggle in Christianity; against which the 
Hindoos are most jealously on their guard. As 
I have said, childhood is the time to sow the seeds 
of belief, and not manhood; more especially where 
an earlier faith has taken root. An acquired con 
viction such as is feigned by adults is, as a rule, 
only the mask for some kind of personal interest. 


And it is the feeling that this is almost bound to 
be the case which makes a man who has changed 
his religion in mature years an object of contempt 
to most people everywhere; who thus show that 
they look upon religion, not as a matter of reasoned 
conviction, but merely as a belief inoculated in 
childhood, before any test can be applied. And 
that they are right in their view of religion is also 
obvious from the way in which not only the masses, 
who are blindly credulous, but also the clergy of 
every religion, who, as such, have faithfully and 
zealously studied its sources, foundations, dogmas 
and disputed points, cleave as a body to the re 
ligion of their particular country; consequently for 
a minister of one religion or confession to go over 
to another is the rarest thing in the world. The 
Catholic clergy, for example, are fully convinced 
of the truth of all the tenets of their Church, and 
so are the Protestant clergy of theirs, and both 
defend the principles of their creeds with like zeal. 
And yet the conviction is governed merely by the 
country native to each; to the South German ec 
clesiastic the truth of the Catholic .dogma is quite 
obvious, to the North German, the Protestant. If 
then, these convictions are based on objective rea 
sons, the reasons must be climatic, and thrive, like 
plants, some only here, some only there. The con 
victions of those who are thus locally convinced are 
taken on trust and believed by the masses every 

Demopheles. Well, no harm is done, and it 
doesn t make any real difference. As a fact, 
Protestantism is more suited to the North, Catholi 
cism to the South. 

PMlalethes. So it seems. Still I take a higher 
standpoint, and keep in view a more important 


object, the progress, namely, of the knowledge of 
truth among mankind. And from this point of 
view, it is a terrible thing that, wherever a man is 
born, certain propositions are inculcated in him in 
earliest youth, and he is assured that he may never 
have any doubts about them, under penalty of 
thereby forfeiting eternal salvation; propositions, 
I mean, which affect the foundation of all our 
other knowledge and accordingly determine for 
ever, and, if they are false, distort for ever, the 
point of view from which our knowledge starts; 
and as, further, the corollaries of these propositions 
touch the entire system of our intellectual attain 
ments at every point, the whole of human knowl 
edge is thoroughly adulterated by them. Evidence 
of this is afforded by every literature; the most 
striking by that of the Middle Age, but in a too 
considerable degree by that of the fifteenth and 
sixteenth centuries. Look at even the first minds 
of all those epochs ; how paralyzed they are by false 
fundamental positions like these; how, more espe 
cially, all insight into the true constitution and 
working of nature is, as it were, blocked up. Dur 
ing the whole of the Christian period Theism lies 
like a mountain on all intellectual, and chiefly on 
all philosophical efforts, and arrests or stunts all 
progress. For the scientific men of these ages God, 
devil, angels, demons hid the whole of nature; no 
inquiry was followed to the end, nothing ever thor 
oughly examined; everything which went beyond 
the most obvious casual nexus was immediately set 
down to those personalities. "It was at once ex 
plained by a reference to God, angels or demons 3 
as Pomponatius expressed himself when the matter 
was being discussed, "and philosophers at any rate 
have nothing analogous." There is, to be sure, 9 


suspicion of irony in this statement of Pomponatius, 
as his perfidy in other matters is known; still, he 
is only giving expression to the general way of 
thinking of his age. And if, on the other hand, 
any one possessed the rare quality of an elastic 
mind, which alone could burst the bonds, his writ 
ings and he himself with them were burnt; as hap 
pened to Bruno and Vanini. How completely an 
ordinary mind is paralyzed by that early prepara 
tion in metaphysics is seen in the most vivid way 
and on its most ridiculous side, where such a one 
undertakes to criticise the doctrines of an alien 
creed. The efforts of the ordinary man are gen 
erally found to be directed to a careful exhibition 
of the incongruity of its dogmas with those of his 
own belief: he is at great pains to show that not 
only do they not say, but certainly do not mean, 
the same thing; and with that he thinks, in his 
simplicity, that he has demonstrated the falsehood 
of the alien creed. He really never dreams of 
putting the question which of the two may be 
right; his own articles of belief he looks upon as 
a priori true and certain principles. 

Demopheles. So that s your higher point of 
view? I assure you there is a higher still. First 
live, then philosophize is a maxim of more compre 
hensive import than appears at first sight. The 
first thing to do is to control the raw and evil dis 
positions of the masses, so as to keep them from 
pushing injustice to extremes, and from commit 
ting cruel, violent and disgraceful acts. If you 
were to wait until they had recognized and grasped 
the truth, you would undoubtedly come too late; 
and truth, supposing that it had been found, would 
surpass their powers of comprehension. In any 
case an allegorical investiture of it, a parable or 


myth, is all that would be of any service to them. 
As Kant said, there must be a public standard of 
Right and Virtue ; it must always flutter high over 
head. It is a matter of indifference what heraldic 
figures are inscribed on it, so long as they signify 
what is meant. Such an allegorical representation 
of truth is always and everywhere, for humanity at 
large, a serviceable substitute for a truth to which 
it can never attain, for a philosophy which it can 
never grasp ; let alone the fact that it is daily chang 
ing its shape, and has in no form as yet met with 
general acceptance. Practical aims, then, my good 
Philalethes, are in every respect superior to theo 

Philalethes. What you say is very like the an 
cient advice of Timaeus of Locrus, the Pythagorean, 
stop the mind with falsehood if you can t speed it 
with truth. I almost suspect that your plan is the 
one which is so much in vogue just now, that you 
want to impress upon me that 

The hour is nigh 
When we may feast in quiet. 

You recommend us, in fact, to take timely precau 
tions, so that the waves of the discontented raging 
masses mayn t disturb us at table. But the whole 
point of view is as false as it is now-a-days popular 
and commended; and so I make haste to enter a 
protest against it. It is false,, that state, justice, 
law cannot be upheld without the assistance of 
religion and its dogmas; and that justice and public 
order need religion as a necessary complement, if 
legislative enactments are to be carried out. It is 
false, were it repeated a hundred times. An ef 
fective and striking argument to the contrary is 
afforded by the ancients, especially the Greeks. 


They had nothing at all of what we understand hy 
religion. They had no sacred documents, no dogma 
to be learned and its acceptance furthered by 
every one, its principles to be inculcated early on 
the young. Just as little was moral doctrine 
preached by the ministers of religion, nor did the 
priests trouble themselves about morality or about 
what the people did or left undone. Not at all. 
The duty of the priests was confined to temple- 
ceremonial, prayers, hymns, sacrifices, processions, 
lustrations and the like, the object of which was 
anything but the moral improvement of the indi 
vidual. What was called religion consisted, more 
especially in the cities, in giving temples here and 
there to some of the gods of the greater tribes, in 
which the worship described was carried on as a 
state matter, and was consequently, in fact, an 
affair of police. No one, except the functionaries 
performing, was in any way compelled to attend, 
or even to believe in it. In the whole of antiquity 
there is no trace of any obligation to believe in any 
particular dogma. Merely in the case of an open 
denial of the existence of the gods, or any other 
reviling of them, a penalty was imposed, and that 
on account of the insult offered to the state, which 
served those gods ; beyond this it was free to every 
one to think of them what he pleased. If anyone 
wanted to gain the favor of those gods privately, 
by prayer or sacrifice, it was open to him to do so 
at his own expense and at his own risk ; if he didn t 
do it, no one made any objection, least of all the 
state. In the case of the Romans, everyone had 
his own Lares and Penates at home; they were, 
however, in reality, only the venerated busts of 
ancestors. Of the immortality of the soul and a life 
beyond the grave, the ancients had no firm, clear 


or, least of all, dogmatically fixed idea, but very 
loose, fluctuating, indefinite and problematical no 
tions, everyone in his own way: and the ideas about 
the gods were just as varying, individual and 
vague. There was, therefore, really no religion, in 
our sense of the word, amongst the ancients. But 
did anarchy and lawlessness prevail amongst them 
on that account? Is not law and civil order, rather, 
so much their work, that it still forms the founda 
tion of our own? Was there not complete protec 
tion for property, even though it consisted for the 
most part of slaves? And did not this state of 
things last for more than a thousand years? So 
that I can t recognize, I must even protest against 
the practical aims and the necessity of religion in 
the sense indicated by you, and so popular now- 
a-days, that is, as an indispensable foundation of 
all legislative arrangements. For, if you take that 
point of view, the pure and sacred endeavor after 
truth would, to say the least, appear quixotic, and 
even criminal, if it ventured, in its feeling of 
justice, to denounce the authoritative creed as a 
usurper who had taken possession of the throne of 
truth and maintained his position by keeping up the 

Demopheles. But religion is not opposed to 
truth; it itself teaches truth. And as the range of 
its activity is not a narrow lecture room, but the 
world and humanity at large, religion must con 
form to the requirements and comprehension of an 
audience so numerous and so mixed. Religion must 
not let truth appear in its naked form; or, to use a 
medical simile, it must not exhibit it pure, but must 
employ a mythical vehicle, a medium, as it were. 
You can also compare truth in this respect to cer 
tain chemical stuffs which in themselves are gas- 


ecus, but which for medicinal uses, as also for 
preservation or transmission, must be bound to a 
stable, solid base, because they would otherwise 
volatilize. Chlorine gas, for example, is for all 
purposes applied only in the form of chlorides. 
But if truth, pure, abstract and free from all 
mythical alloy, is always to remain unattainable, 
even by philosophers, it might be compared to 
fluorine, which cannot even be isolated, but must 
always appear in combination with other elements. 
Or, to take a less scientific simile, truth, which is 
inexpressible except by means of myth and allegory, 
is like water, which can be carried about only in 
vessels; a philosopher who insists on obtaining it 
pure is like a man who breaks the jug in order to 
get the water by itself. This is, perhaps, an exact 
analogy. At any rate, religion is truth allegorically 
and mythically expressed, and so rendered attain 
able and digestible by mankind in general. Man 
kind couldn t possibly take it pure and unmixed, 
just as we can t breathe pure oxygen; we require 
an addition of four times its bulk in nitrogen. In 
plain language, the profound meaning, the high 
aim of life, can only be unfolded and presented to 
the masses symbolically, because they are incapable 
of grasping it in its true signification. Philosophy, 
on the other hand, should be like the Eleusinian 
mysteries, for the few, the elite. 

Philalethes. I understand. It comes, in short, 
to truth wearing the garment of falsehood. But 
in doing so it enters on a fatal alliance. What a 
dangerous weapon is put into the hands of those 
who are authorized to employ falsehood as the 
vehicle of truth! If it is as you say, I fear the 
damage caused by the falsehood will be greater 
than any advantage the truth could ever produce, 


Of course, if the allegory were admitted to be such, 
I should raise no objection; but with the admission 
it would rob itself of all respect, and consequently, 
of all utility. The allegory must, therefore, put in 
a claim to be true in the proper sense of the word, 
and maintain the claim; while, at the most, it is 
true only in an allegorical sense. Here lies the 
irreparable mischief, the permanent evil; and this 
is why religion has always been and always will be 
in conflict with the noble endeavor after pure 

Demopheles. Oh no! that danger is guarded 
against. If religion mayn t exactly confess its al 
legorical nature, it gives sufficient indication of it. 

Philalethes. How so? 

Demopheles. In its mysteries. "Mystery," is 
in reality only a technical theological term for re 
ligious allegory. All religions have their mysteries. 
Properly speaking, a mystery is a dogma which 
is plainly absurd, but which, nevertheless, conceals 
in itself a lofty truth, and one which by itself would 
be completely incomprehensible to the ordinary 
understanding of the raw multitude. The multi 
tude accepts it in this disguise on trust, and be 
lieves it, without being led astray by the absurdity 
of it, which even to its intelligence is obvious; and 
in this way it participates in the kernel of the matter 
so far as it is possible for it to do so. To explain 
what I mean, I may add that even in philosophy 
an attempt has been made to make use of a 
mystery. Pascal, for example, who was at once 
a pietist, a mathematician, and a philosopher, says 
in this threefold capacity : God is everywhere center 
and nowhere periphery. Malebranche has also the 
just remark: Liberty is a mystery. One could go 
a step further and maintain that in religions every- 


thing is mystery. For to impart truth, in the 
proper sense of the word, to the multitude in its 
raw state is absolutely impossible; all that can fall 
to its lot is to be enlightened by a mythological 
reflection of it. Naked truth is out of place before 
the eyes of the profane vulgar; it can only make 
its appearance thickly veiled. Hence, it is unrea 
sonable to require of a religion that it shall be true 
in the proper sense of the word; and this, I may 
observe in passing, is now-a-days the absurd con 
tention of Rationalists and Supernaturalists alike. 
Both start from the position that religion must be 
the real truth; and while the former demonstrate 
that it is not the truth, the latter obstinately main 
tain that it is; or rather, the former dress up and 
arrange the allegorical element in such a way, that, 
in the proper sense of the word, it could be true, 
but would be, in that case, a platitude; while the 
latter wish to maintain that it is true in the proper 
sense of the word, without any further dressing; a 
belief, which, as we ought to know is only to be 
enforced by inquisitions and the stake. As a fact, 
however, myth and allegory really form the proper 
element of "religion; and under this indispensable 
condition, which is imposed by the intellectual 
limitation of the multitude, religion provides a suffi 
cient satisfaction for those metaphysical require 
ments of mankind which are indestructible. It takes 
the place of that pure philosophical truth which is 
infinitely difficult and perhaps never attainable. 

Philalethes. Ah! just as a wooden leg takes the 
place of a natural one ; it supplies what is lacking, 
barely does duty for it, claims to be regarded as 
a natural leg, and is more or less artfully put to 
gether. The only difference is that, whilst a natural 


leg as a rule preceded the wooden one, religion 
has everywhere got the start of philosophy. 

Demopheles. That may be, but still for a man 
who hasn t a natural leg, a wooden one is of great 
service. You must bear in mind that the meta 
physical needs of mankind absolutely require sat 
isfaction, because the horizon of men s thoughts 
must have a background and not remain un 
bounded. Man has, as a rule, no faculty for weigh 
ing reasons and discriminating between what is 
false and what is true ; and besides, the labor which 
nature and the needs of nature impose upon him, 
leaves him no time for such enquiries, or for the 
education which they presuppose. In his case, 
therefore, it is no use talking of a reasoned convic 
tion; he has to fall back on belief and authority. 
If a really true philosophy were to take the place 
of religion, nine-tenths at least of mankind would 
have to receive it on authority; that is to say, it too 
would be a matter of faith, for Plato s dictum, 
that the multitude can t be philosophers, will al 
ways remain true. Authority, however, is an affair 
of time and circumstance alone, and so it can t be 
bestowed on that which has only reason in its favor, 
it must accordingly be allowed to nothing but what 
has acquired it in the course of history, even if it 
is only an allegorical representation of truth. 
Truth in this form, supported by authority, appeals 
first of all to those elements in the human consti 
tution which are strictly metaphysical, that is to 
say, to the need man feels of a theory in regard to 
the riddle of existence which forces itself upon his 
notice, a need arising from the consciousness that 
behind the physical in the world there is a meta 
physical, something permanent as the foundation 
of constant change. Then it appeals to the will, 


to the fears and hopes of mortal beings living in 
constant struggle ; for whom, accordingly, religion 
creates gods and demons whom they can cry to, 
appease and win over. Finally, it appeals to that 
moral consciousness which is undeniably present in 
man, lends to it that corroboration and support 
without which it would not easily maintain itself 
in the struggle against so many temptations. It is 
just from this side that religion affords an inex 
haustible source of consolation and comfort in the 
innumerable trials of life, a comfort which does not 
leave men in death, but rather then only unfolds 
its full efficacy. So religion may be compared to 
one who takes a blind man by the hand and leads 
him, because he is unable to see for himself, whose 
concern it is to reach his destination, not to look at 
everything by the way. 

Philalethes. That is certainly the strong point 
of religion. If it is a fraud, it is a pious fraud; 
that is undeniable. But this makes priests some 
thing between deceivers and teachers of morality; 
they daren t teach the real truth, as you have quite 
rightly explained, even if they knew it, which is not 
the case. A true philosophy, then, can always 
exist, but not a true religion; true, I mean, in the 
proper understanding of the word, not merely in 
that flowery or allegorical sense which you have 
described; a sense in which all religions would be 
true, only in various degrees. It is quite in keep 
ing with the inextricable mixture of weal and woe, 
honesty and deceit, good and evil, nobility and base 
ness, which is the average characteristic of the 
world everywhere, that the most important, the 
most lofty, the most sacred truths can make their 
appearance only in combination with a lie, can even 
borrow strength from a lie as from something that 


works more powerfully on mankind; and, as revela 
tion, must be ushered in by a lie. This might, 
indeed, be regarded as the cachet of the moral 
world. However, we won t give up the hope that 
mankind will eventually reach a point of maturity 
and education at which it can on the one side pro 
duce, and on the other receive, the true philosophy. 
Simplex sigillum veri: the naked truth must be so 
simple and intelligible that it can be imparted to 
all in its true form, without any admixture of 
myth and fable, without disguising it in the form 
of religion. 

Demopheles. You ve no notion how stupid 
most people are. 

Philalethes. I am only expressing a hope which 
I can t give up. If it were fulfilled, truth in its 
simple and intelligible form would of course drive 
religion from the place it has so long occupied 
as its representative, and by that very means kept 
open for it. The time would have come when re 
ligion would have carried out her object and com 
pleted her course : the race she had brought to years 
of discretion she could dismiss, and herself depart 
in peace: that would be the euthanasia of religion. 
But as long as she lives, she has two faces, one of 
truth, one of fraud. According as you look at one 
or the other, you will bear her favor or ill-will. 
Religion must be regarded as a necessary evil, its 
necessity resting on the pitiful imbecility of the 
great majority of mankind, incapable of grasping 
the truth, and therefore requiring, in its pressing 
need, something to take its place. 

Demopheles. Really, one would think that you 
philosophers had truth in a cupboard, and that all 
you had to do was to go and get it! 

Philalethes. Well, if we haven t got it, it is 


chiefly owing to the pressure put upon philosophy 
by religion at all. times and in all places. People 
have tried to make the expression and communica 
tion of truth, even the contemplation and discovery 
of it, impossible, by putting children, in their 
earliest years, into the hands of priests to be 
manipulated; to have the lines, in which their 
fundamental thoughts are henceforth to run, laid 
down with such firmness as, in essential matters, to 
be fixed and determined for this whole life. When 
I take up the writings even of the best intellects 
of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, (more 
especially if I have been engaged in Oriental 
studies,) I am sometimes shocked to see how they 
are paralyzed and hemmed in on all sides by Jewish 
ideas. How can anyone think out the true philoso 
phy when he is prepared like this? 

Demopheles. Even if the true philosophy were 
to be discovered, religion wouldn t disappear from 
the world, as you seem to think. There can t be 
one system of metaphysics for everybody; that s 
rendered impossible by the natural differences of 
intellectual power between man and man, and the 
differences, too, which education makes. It is a 
necessity for the great majority of mankind to 
engage in that severe bodily labor which cannot be 
dispensed with if the ceaseless requirements of the 
whole race are to be satisfied. Not only does this 
leave the majority no time for education, for learn 
ing, for contemplation; but by virtue of the hard 
and fast antagonism between muscles and mind, the 
intelligence is blunted by so much exhausting bodily 
labor, and becomes heavy, clumsy, awkward, and 
consequently incapable of grasping any other than 
quite simple situations. At least nine-tenths of the 
human race falls under this category. But still the 


people require a system of metaphysics, that is, an 
account of the world and our existence, because 
such an account belongs to the most natural needs 
of mankind, they require a popular system; and to 
be popular it must combine many rare qualities. 
It must be easily understood, and at the same time 
possess, on the proper points, a certain amount of 
obscurity, even of impenetrability; then a correct 
and satisfactory system of morality must be bound 
up with its dogmas; above all, it must afford inex 
haustible consolation in suffering and death; the 
consequence of all this is, that it can only be true 
in an allegorical and not in a real sense. Further, 
it must have the support of an authority which is 
impressive by its great age, by being universally 
recognized, by its documents, their tone and utter 
ances; qualities which are so extremely difficult to 
combine that many a man wouldn t be so ready, 
if he considered the matter, to help to undermine 
a religion, but would reflect that what he is attack 
ing is a people s most sacred treasure. If you want 
to form an opinion on religion, you should always 
bear in mind the character of the great multitude 
for which it is destined, and form a picture to your 
self of its complete inferiority, moral and intel 
lectual. It is incredible how far this inferiority 
goes, and how perseveringly a spark of truth will 
glimmer on even under the crudest covering of 
monstrous fable or grotesque ceremony, clinging 
indestructibly, like the odor of musk, to everything 
that has once come into contact with it. In illustra 
tion of this, consider the profound wisdom of the 
Upanishads, and then look at the mad idolatry in 
the India of to-day, with its pilgrimages, proces 
sions and festivities, or at the insane and ridiculous 
goings-on of the Saniassi. Still one can t deny that 


in all this insanity and nonsense there lies some ob 
scure purpose which accords with, or is a reflection 
of the profound wisdom I mentioned. But for the 
brute multitude, it had to be dressed up in this 
form. In such a contrast as this we have the two 
poles of humanity, the wisdom of the individual 
and the bestiality of the many, both of which find 
their point of contact in the moral sphere. That 
saying from the Kurral must occur to everybody. 
Base people look like men., but I have never seen 
their exact counterpart. The man of education 
may, all the same, interpret religion to himself cum 
grano salts; the man of learning, the contemplative 
spirit may secretly exchange it for a philosophy. 
But here again one philosophy wouldn t suit every 
body; by the laws of affinity every system would 
draw to itself that public to whose education and 
capacities it was most suited. So there is always an 
inferior metaphysical system of the schools for the 
educated multitude, and a higher one for the elite. 
Kant s lofty doctrine, for instance, had to be de 
graded to the level of the schools and ruined by 
such men as Fries, Krug and Salat. In short, here, 
if anywhere, Goethe s maxim is true, One does not 
suit all. Pure faith in revelation and pure meta 
physics are for the two extremes, and for the inter 
mediate steps mutual modifications of both in in 
numerable combinations and gradations. And this 
is rendered necessary by the immeasurable differ 
ences which nature and education have placed be 
tween man and man. 

Philalethes. The view you take reminds me 
seriously of the mysteries of the ancients, which 
you mentioned just now. Their fundamental pur 
pose seems to have been to remedy the evil arising 
from the differences of intellectual capacity and 


education. The plan was, out of the great multi 
tude utterly impervious to unveiled truth, to select 
certain persons who might have it revealed to them 
up to a given point; out of these, again, to choose 
others to whom more would he revealed, as being 
able to grasp more; and so on up to the Epopts. 
These grades correspond to the little, greater and 
greatest mysteries. The arrangement was founded 
on a correct estimate of the intellectual inequality 
of mankind. 

Demopheles. To some extent the education in 
our lower, middle and high schools corresponds to 
the varying grades of initiation into the mysteries. 

Pliilalethes. In a very approximate way; and 
then only in so far as subjects of higher knowledge 
are written about exclusively in Latin. But since 
that has ceased to be the case, all the mysteries are 

Demoplielcs. However that may be, I wanted 
to remind you that you should look at religion 
more from the practical than from the theoretical 
side. Personified metaphysics may be the enemy 
of religion, but all the same personified morality 
will be its friend. Perhaps the metaphysical ele 
ment in all religions is false ; but the moral element 
in all is true. This might perhaps be presumed 
from the fact that they all disagree in their meta 
physics, but are in accord as regards morality. 

Philalethes. Which is an illustration of the rule 
of logic that false premises may give a true con 

Demopheles. Let me hold you to your conclu 
sion : let me remind you that religion has two sides. 
If it can t stand when looked at from its theoretical, 
that is, its intellectual side ; on the other hand, from 
the moral side, it proves itself the only means of 


guiding, controlling and mollifying those races of 
animals endowed with reason, whose kinship with 
the ape does not exclude a kinship with the tiger. 
But at the same time religion is, as a rule, a suffi 
cient satisfaction for their dull metaphysical neces 
sities. You don t seem to me to possess a proper 
idea of the difference, wide as the heavens asunder, 
the deep gulf between your man of learning and 
enlightenment, accustomed to the process of think 
ing, and the heavy, clumsy, dull and sluggish con 
sciousness of humanity s beasts of burden, whose 
thoughts have once and for all taken the direction 
of anxiety about their livelihood, and cannot be put 
in motion in any other; whose muscular strength 
is so exclusively brought into play that the nervous 
power, which makes intelligence, sinks to a very 
low ebb. People like that must have something 
tangible which they can lay hold of on the slippery 
and thorny pathway of their life, some sort of 
beautiful fable, by means of which things can be 
imparted to them which their crude intelligence 
can entertain only in picture and parable. Pro 
found explanations and fine distinctions are thrown 
away upon them. If you conceive religion in this 
light, and recollect that its aims are above all prac 
tical, and only in a subordinate degree theoretical, 
it will appear to you as something worthy of the 
highest respect. 

Philalethes. A respect \vhich will finally rest 
upon the principle that the end sanctifies the means. 
I don t feel in favor of a compromise on a basis 
like that. Religion may be an excellent means of 
training the perverse, obtuse and ill-disposed mem 
bers of the biped race: in the eyes of the friend 
of truth every fraud, even though it be a pious 
one, is to be condemned. A system of deception. 


a pack of lies, would be a strange means of in 
culcating virtue. The flag to which I have taken 
the oath is truth ; I shall remain faithful to it every 
where, and whether I succeed or not, I shall fight 
for light and truth! If I see religion on the wrong 

Demophcles. But you won t. Religion isn t a 
deception: it is true and the most important of all 
truths. Because its doctrines are, as I have said, 
of such a lofty kind that the multitude can t grasp 
them without an intermediary, because, I say, its 
light would blind the ordinary eye, it comes for 
ward wrapt in the veil of allegory and teaches, not 
indeed what is exactly true in itself, but what is 
true in respect of the lofty meaning contained in 
it; and, understood in this way, religion is the 

Philalethes. It would be all right if religion 
were only at liberty to be true in a merely alle 
gorical sense. But its contention is that it is down 
right true in the proper sense of the word. Herein 
lies the deception, and it is here that the friend of 
truth must take up a hostile position. 

Demopheles. The deception is a sine qua non. 
If religion were to admit that it was only the alle 
gorical meaning in its doctrine which was true, it 
would rob itself of all efficacy. Such rigorous 
treatment as this would destroy its invaluable in 
fluence on the hearts and morals of mankind. * In 
stead of insisting on that with pedantic obstinacy, 
look at its great achievements in the practical 
sphere, its furtherance of good and kindly feelings, 
its guidance in conduct, the support and consolation 
it gives to suffering humanity in life and death. 
How much you ought to guard against letting 
theoretical cavils discredit in the eyes of the multi- 


tude, and finally wrest from it, something which is 
an inexhaustible source of consolation and tran 
quillity, something which, in its hard lot, it needs 
so much, even more than we do. On that score 
alone, religion should be free from attack. 

Pkilalethes. With that kind of argument you 
could have driven Luther from the field, when he 
attacked the sale of indulgences. How many a one 
got consolation from the letters of indulgence, a 
consolation which nothing else could give, a com 
plete tranquillity; so that he joyfully departed with 
the fullest confidence in the packet of them which 
he held in his hand at the hour of death, convinced 
that they were so many cards of admission to all 
the nine heavens. What is the use of grounds of 
consolation and tranquillity which are constantly 
overshadowed by the Damocles-sword of illusion? 
The truth, my dear sir, is the only safe thing; the 
truth alone remains steadfast and trusty; it is the 
only solid consolation ; it is the indestructible 

DemopJieles. Yes, if you had truth in your 
pocket, ready to favor us with it on demand. All 
you ve got are metaphysical systems, in which 
nothing is certain but the headaches they cost. Be 
fore you take anything away, you must have some 
thing better to put in its place. 

Philalethes. That s what you keep on saying. 
To free a man from error is to give, not to take 
away. Knowledge that a thing is false is a truth. 
Error always does harm; sooner or later it will 
bring mischief to the man who harbors it. Then 
give up deceiving people ; confess ignorance of what 
you don t know, and leave everyone to form his 
own articles of faith for himself. Perhaps they 
won t turn out so bad, especially as they ll rub one 


another s corners down, and mutually rectify mis 
takes. The existence of many views will at any 
rate lay a foundation of tolerance. Those who 
possess knowledge and capacity may betake them 
selves to the study of philosophy, or even in their 
own persons carry the history of philosophy a step 

Demopheles. That ll be a pretty business! A 
whole nation of raw metaphysicians, wrangling Lind 
eventually coming to blows with one another! 

Philalethes. Well, well, a few blows here and 
there are the sauce of life; or at any rate a very 
inconsiderable evil compared with such things as 
priestly dominion, plundering of the laity, persecu 
tion of heretics, courts of inquisition, crusades, re 
ligious wars, massacres of St. Bartholomew. These 
have been the result of popular metaphysics im 
posed from without; so I stick to the old saying 
that you can t get grapes from thistles, nor expect 
good to come from a pack of lies. 

Demopheles. How often must I repeat that re 
ligion is anything but a pack of lies? It is truth 
itself, only in a mythical, allegorical vesture. But 
when you spoke of your plan of everyone being 
his own founder of religion, I wanted to say that 
a particularism like this is totally opposed to human 
nature, and would consequently destroy all social 
order. Man is a metaphysical animal, that is to 
say, he has paramount metaphysical necessities; 
accordingly, he conceives life above all in its meta 
physical signification, and wishes to bring every 
thing into line with that. Consequently, however 
strange it may sound in view of the uncertainty 
of all dogmas, agreement in the fundamentals of 
metaphysics is the chief thing, because a genuine 
and lasting bond of union is only possible among 


those who are of one opinion on these points. 
a result of this, the main point of likeness and of 
contrast between nations is rather religion than 
government, or even language; and so the fabric 
of society, the State, will stand firm only when 
founded on a system of metaphysics which is ac 
knowledged by all. This, of course, can only be a 
popular system, that is, a religion: it becomes 
part and parcel of the constitution of the State, of 
all the public manifestations of the national life, 
and also of all solemn acts of individuals. This 
was the case in ancient India, among the Persians, 
Egyptians, Jews, Greeks and Romans; it is still 
the case in the Brahman, Buddhist and Moham 
medan nations. In China there are three faiths, 
it is true, of which the most prevalent Buddhism 
is precisely the one which is not protected by 
the State; still, there is a saying in China, univer 
sally asknowledged, and of daily application, that 
"the three faiths are only one," that is to say, 
they agree in essentials. The Emperor confesses 
all three together at the same time. And Europe 
is the union of Christian States : Christianity is the 
basis of every one of the members, and the common 
bond of all. Hence Turkey, though geographic 
ally in Europe, is not properly to be reckoned as 
belonging to it. In the same way, the European 
princes hold their place "by the grace of God:" 
and the Pope is the vicegerent of God. Accord 
ingly, as his throne was the highest, he used to 
wish all thrones to be regarded as held in fee 
from him. In the same way, too, Archbishops and 
Bishops, as such, possessed temporal power; and 
in England they still have seats and votes in the 
Upper House. Protestant princes, as such, are 
heads of their churches: in England, a few years 


ago, this was a girl eighteen years old. By the 
revolt from the Pope, the Reformation shattered 
the European fabric, and in a special degree dis 
solved the true unity of Germany by destroying 
its common religious faith. This union, which had 
practically come to an end, had, accordingly, to 
be restored later on by artificial and purely political 
means. You see, then, how closely connected a 
common fa: ,h is with the social order and the con 
stitution cf every State. Faith is everywhere the 
support of the laws and the constitution, the 
foundation, therefore, of the social fabric, which 
could hardly hold together at all if religion did not 
lend weight to the authority of government and 
the dignity of the ruler. 

PhUalethcs. Oh, yes, princes use God as a kind 
of bogey to frighten grown-up children to bed with, 
if nothing else avails: that s why they attach so 
much importance to the Deity. Very well. Let 
me, in passing, recommend our rulers to give their 
serious attention, regularly twice every year, to 
the fifteenth chapter of the First Book of Samuel, 
that they may be constantly reminded of what it 
means to prop the throne on the altar. Besides, 
since the stake, that ultima ration tJieologorum, 
has gone out of fashion, this method of govern 
ment has lost its efficacy. For, as you know, re 
ligions are like glow-worms; they shine only when 
it is dark. A certain amount of general ignorance 
is the condition of all religions, the element in which 
alone they can exist. And as soon as astronomy, 
natural science, geology, history, the knowledge of 
countries and peoples have spread their light 
broadcast, and philosophy finally is permitted to 
say a word, every faith founded on miracles and 
revelation must disappear; and philosophy takes 


its place. In Europe the day of knowledge and 
science dawned towards the end of the fifteenth 
century with the appearance of the Renaissance 
Platonists : its sun rose higher in the sixteenth and 
seventeenth centuries so rich in results, and scat 
tered the mists of the Middle Age. Church and 
Faith were compelled to disappear in the same 
proportion; and so in the eighteenth century Eng 
lish and French philosophers were able to take up 
an attitude of direct hostility; until, finally, under 
Frederick the Great, Kant appeared, and took 
away from religious belief the support it had 
previously enjoyed from philosophy: he emanci 
pated the handmaid of theology, and in attacking 
the question with German thoroughness and pa 
tience, gave it an earnest instead of a frivolous 
tone. Xb ^uns^q"^*^ -oiLthis jg that we see 
Christianity undermined in the nineteenth century, 
a serious faith in it almost completely gone; we 
see it fighting even for bare existence, whilst 
anxious princes try to set it up a little by artificial 
means, as a doctor uses a drug on a dying patient. 
In this connection there is a passage in Condorcet s 
"Des Progres de I esprit humcdn" which looks as 
if written as a warning to our age: "the religious 
zeal shown by philosophers and great men was 
only a political devotion; and every religion which 
allows itself to be defended as a belief that may 
usefully be left to the people, can only hope for 
an agony more or less prolonged." In the whole 
course of the events which I have indicated, you 
may always observe that faith and knowledge are 
related as the two scales of a balance; when the 
one goes up, the other goes down. So sensitive is 
the balance that it indicates momentary influences. 
When, for instance, at the beginning of this 


century, those inroads of French robbers under the 
leadership of Bonaparte, and the enormous efforts 
necessary for driving them out and punishing them, 
had brought about a temporary neglect of science 
and consequently a certain decline in the general 
increase of knowledge, the Church immediately be 
gan to raise her head again and Faith began to 
show fresh signs of life; which, to be sure, in keep 
ing with the times, was partly poetical in its 
nature. On the other hand, in the more than thirty 
years of peace which followed, leisure and pros 
perity furthered the building up of science and the 
spread of knowledge in an extraordinary degree: 
the consequence of which is what I have indicated, 
the dissolution and threatened fall of religion. 
Perhaps the time is approaching which has so often 
been prophesied, when religion will take her de 
parture from European humanity, like a nurse 
which the child has outgrown : the child will now be 
given over to the instructions of a tutor. For there 
is no doubt that religious doctrines which are 
founded merely on authority, miracles and revela 
tions, are only suited to the childhood of humanity. 
Everyone will admit that a race, the past duration 
of which on the earth all accounts, physical and 
historical, agree in placing at not more than some 
hundred times the life of a man of sixty, is as yet 
only in its first childhood. 

Demopheles. Instead of taking an undisguised 
pleasure in prophesying the downfall of Christian 
ity, how I wish you would consider what a measure 
less debt of gratitude European humanity owes to 
it, how greatly it has benefited by the religion 
which, after a long interval, followed it from its 
old home in the East. Europe received from Chris 
tianity ideas which were quite new to it, the 


knowledge, I mean, of the fundamental truth 
that life cannot be an end-in-itself, that the true 
end of our existence lies beyond it. The Greeks 
and Romans had placed this end altogether in 
our present life, so that in this sense they may 
certainly be called blind heathens. And, in 
keeping with this view of life, all their virtues 
can be reduced to what is serviceable to the com 
munity, to what is useful in fact. Aristotle says 
quite naively, Those virtues must necessarily be 
the greatest which are the most useful to others. 
So the ancients thought patriotism the highest 
virtue, although it is really a very doubtful one, 
since narrowness, prejudice, vanity and an en 
lightened self-interest are main elements in it. Just 
before the passage I quoted, Aristotle enumerates 
all the virtues, in order to discuss them singly. 
They are Justice, Courage, Temperance, Magnifi 
cence, Magnanimity, Liberality, Gentleness, Good 
Sense and Wisdom. How different from the Chris 
tian virtues ! Plato himself, incomparably the most 
transcendental philosopher of pre-Christian an 
tiquity, knows no higher virtue than Justice; and 
he alone recommends it unconditionally and for 
its own sake, whereas the rest make a happy life, 
vita beat a, the aim of all virtue, and moral conduct 
the way to attain it. Christianity freed European 
humanity from this shallow, crude identification of 
itself with the hollow, uncertain existence of every 

coelumque tueri 
Jussit, et erectos ad sidera tollere vultus. 

Christianity, accordingly, does not preach mere 
Justice, but the Love of Mankind, Compassion, 
Good Works, Forgiveness, Love of your Enemies* 


Patience, Humility, Resignation, Faith and Hope. 
It even went a step further, and taught that the 
world is of evil, and that we need deliverance. It 
preached despisal of the world, self-denial, chastity, 
giving up of one s will, that is, turning away from 
life and its illusory pleasures. It taught the heal 
ing power of pain: an instrument of torture is the 
symbol of Christianity. I am quite ready to admit 
that this earnest, this only correct view of life was 
thousands of years previously spread all over Asia 
in other forms, as it is still, independently of Chris 
tianity; but for European humanity it was a new 
and great revelation. For it is well known that 
the population of Europe consists of Asiatic races 
driven out as wanderers from their own homes, and 
gradually settling down in Europe; on their wan 
derings these races lost the original religion of their 
homes, and with it the right view of life: so, under 
a new sky, they formed religions for themselves, 
which were rather crude; the worship of Odin, for 
instance, the Druidic or the Greek religion, the 
metaphysical content of which was little and shal 
low. In the meantime the Greeks developed a 
special, one might almost say, an instinctive sense 
of beauty, belonging to them alone of all the na 
tions who have ever existed on the earth, peculiar, 
fine and exact : so that their mythology took, in the 
mouth of their poets, and in the hands of their 
artists, an exceedingly beautiful and pleasing shape. 
On the other hand, the true and deep significance 
of life was lost to the Greeks and Romans. They 
lived on like grown-up children, till Christianity 
came and recalled them to the serious side of ex 

Philalethes. And to see the effects one need 
only compare antiquity with the Middle Age; the 


time of Pericles, say, with the fourteenth century. 
You could scarcely believe you were dealing with 
the same kind of beings. There, the finest develop 
ment of humanity, excellent institutions, wise laws, 
shrewdly apportioned offices, rationally ordered 
freedom, all the arts, including poetry and philoso 
phy, at their best; the production of works which, 
after thousands of years, are unparalleled, the crea 
tions, as it were, of a higher order of beings, which 
we can never imitate; life embellished by the 
noblest fellowship, as portrayed in Xenophen s 
Banquet. Look on the other picture, if you can; 
a time at which the Church had enslaved the minds, 
and violence the bodies of men, that knights and 
priests might lay the whole weight of life upon the 
common beast of burden, the third estate. There, 
you have might as right, Feudalism and Fanaticism 
in close alliance, and in their train abominable ig 
norance and darkness of mind, a corresponding 
intolerance, discord of creeds, religious wars, cru 
sades, inquisitions and persecutions; as the form 
of fellowship, chivalry, compounded of savagery 
and folly, with its pedantic system of ridiculous 
false pretences carried to an extreme, its degrading 
superstition and apish veneration for women. Gal 
lantry is the residue of this veneration, deservedly 
requited as it is by feminine arrogance; it affords 
continual food for laughter to all Asiatics, and the 
Greeks would have joined in it. In the golden 
Middle Age the practice developed into a regular 
and methodical service of women; it imposed deeds 
of heroism, cours d* amour, bombastic Troubadour 
songs, etc.; although it is to be observed that these 
last buffooneries, which had an intellectual side, 
were chiefly at home in France; whereas amongst 
the material sluggish Germans, the knights dis~ 


tinguished themselves rather by drinking and steal 
ing; they were good at boozing and filling their 
castles with plunder; though in the courts, to be 
sure, there was no lack of insipid love songs. What 
caused this utter transformation? Migration and 

Demopheles. I am glad you reminded me of it. 
Migration was the source of the evil; Christianity 
the dam on which it broke. It was chiefly by Chris 
tianity that the raw, wild hordes which came flood 
ing in were controlled and tamed. The savage man 
must first of all learn to kneel, to venerate, to obey ; 
after that he can be civilized. This was done in 
Ireland by St. Patrick, in Germany by Winifred 
the Saxon, who was a genuine Boniface. It was 
migration of peoples, the last advance of Asiatic 
races towards Europe, followed only by the fruit 
less attempts of those under Attila, Zenghis Khan, 
and Timur, and as a comic afterpiece, by the 
gipsies, it was this movement which swept away 
the humanity of the ancients. Christianity was 
precisely the principle which set itself to work 
against this savagery; just as later, through the 
whole of the Middle Age, the Church and it hier 
archy were most necessary to set limits to the 
savage barbarism of those masters of violence, the 
princes and knights: it was what broke up the ice 
floes in that mighty deluge. Still, the chief aim of 
Christianity is not so much to make this life 
pleasant as to render us worthy of a better. It 
looks away over this span of time, over this fleeting 
dream, and seeks to lead us to eternal welfare. Its 
tendency is ethical in the highest sense of the word, 
a sense unknown in Europe till its advent; as I 
have shown you, by putting the morality and re- 


ligion of the ancients side by side with those of 

Philalethes. You are quite right as regards 
theory: but look at the practice! In comparison 
with the ages of Christianity the ancient world was 
unquestionably less cruel than the Middle Age, 
with its deaths by exquisite torture, its innumerable 
burnings at the stake. The ancients, further, were 
very enduring, laid great stress on justice, fre 
quently sacrificed themselves for their country, 
showed such traces of every kind of magnanimity, 
and such genuine manliness, that to this day an 
acquaintance with their thoughts and actions is 
called the study of Humanity. The fruits of Chris 
tianity were religious wars, butcheries, crusades, 
inquisitions, extermination of the natives in Amer 
ica, and the introduction of African slaves in their 
place; and among the ancients there is nothing 
analogous to this, nothing that can be compared 
with it; for the slaves of the ancients, the familia, 
the vernce, were a contented race, and faithfully 
devoted to their masters service, and as different 
from the misareble negroes of the sugar planta 
tions, which are a disgrace to humanity, as their 
two colors are distinct. Those special moral de 
linquencies for which we reproach the ancients, 
and which are perhaps less uncommon now-a- 
days than appears on the surface to be the case, 
are trifles compared with the Christian enormi 
ties I have mentioned. Can you then, all consid 
ered, maintain that mankind has been really made 
morally better by Christianity? 

Demopheles. If the results haven t everywhere 
been in keeping with the purity and truth of the 
doctrine, it may be because the doctrine has been 
too noble, too elevated for mankind, that its aim 


has been placed too high. It was so much easier 
to come up to the heathen system, or to the Moham 
medan. It is precisely what is noble and dignified 
that is most liable everywhere to misuse and fraud : 
abusus optimi pessimus. Those high doctrines have 
accordingly now and then served as a pretext for 
the most abominable proceedings, and for acts of 
unmitigated wickedness. The downfall of the in 
stitutions of the old world, as well as of its arts 
and sciences, is, as I have said, to be attributed 
to the inroad of foreign barbarians. The inevitable 
result of this inroad was that ignorance and sav 
agery got the upper hand; consequently violence 
and knavery established their dominion, and 
knights and priests became a burden to mankind. 
It is partly, however, to be explained by the fact 
that the new religion made eternal and not tem 
poral welfare the object of desire, taught that sim 
plicity of heart was to be preferred to knowledge, 
and looked askance at all worldly pleasure. Now 
the arts and sciences subserve worldly pleasure ; but 
in so far as they could be made serviceable to re 
ligion they were promoted, and attained a certain 
degree of perfection. 

Philalethes. In a very narrow sphere. The 
sciences were suspicious companions, and as such, 
were placed under restrictions: on the other hand, 
darling ignorance, that element so necessary to a 
system of faith, ^vas carefully nourished. 

Demopheles. And yet mankind s possessions in 
the way of knowledge up to that period, which were 
preserved in the writings of the ancients, were saved 
from destruction by the clergy, especially by those 
in the monasteries. How would it have fared if 
Christianity hadn t come in just before the migra 
tion of peoples. 


Philalethes. It would really be a most useful 
inquiry to try and make, with the coldest impartial 
ity, an unprejudiced, careful and accurate com 
parison of the advantages and disadvantages which 
may be put down to religion. For that, of course, 
a much larger knowledge of historical and psycho 
logical data than either of us command would be 
necessary. Academies might make it a subject for 
a prize essay. 

Demopheles. They ll take good care not to do 

Philalethes. I m surprised to hear you say that : 
it s a bad look out for religion. However, there 
are academies which, in proposing a subject for 
competition, make it a secret condition that the 
prize is to go to the man who best interprets their 
own view. If we could only begin by getting 
a statistician to tell us how many crimes are pre 
vented every year by religious, and how many by 
other motives, there would be very few of the former. 
If a man feels tempted to commit a crime, you may 
rely upon it that the first consideration which enters 
his head is the penalty appointed for it, and the 
chances that it will fall upon him: then comes, as 
a second consideration, the risk to his reputation. 
If I am not mistaken, he will ruminate by the hour 
on these two impediments, before he ever takes a 
thought of religious considerations. If he gets 
safely over those two first bulwarks against crime, 
I think religion alone will very rarely hold him back 
from it. 

Demopheles. I think that it will very often do 
so, especially when its influence works through the 
medium of custom. An atrocious act is at once 
felt to be repulsive. What is this but the effect 
of early impressions? Think, for instance, how 


often a man, especially if of noble birth, will 
make tremendous sacrifices to perform what he has 
promised, motived entirely by the fact that his 
father has often earnestly impressed upon him in 
his childhood that "a man of honor" or "a gentle 
man" or a "a cavalier" always keeps his word in 

Philalethes. That s no use unless there is a cer 
tain inborn honorableness. You mustn t ascribe to 
religion what results from innate goodness of char 
acter, by which compassion for the man who would 
suffer by his crime keeps a man from committing 
it. This is the genuine moral motive, and as such 
it is independent of all religions. 

Demopheles. But this is a motive which rarely 
affects the multitude unless it assumes a relig 
ious aspect. The religious aspect at any rate 
strengthens its power for good. Yet without any 
such natural foundation, religious motives alone are 
powerful to prevent crime. We need not be sur 
prised at this in the case of the multitude, when 
we see that even people of education pass now and 
then under the influence, not indeed of religious 
motives, which are founded on something which is 
at least allegorically true, but of the most absurd 
superstition, and allow themselves to be guided by 
it all their life long; as, for instance, undertaking 
nothing on a Friday, refusing to sit down thirteen 
at a table, obeying chance omens, and the like. 
How much more likely is the multitude to be guided 
by such things. You can t form any adequate idea 
of the narrow limits of the mind in its raw state; 
it is a place of absolute darkness, especially when, 
as often happens, a bad, unjust and malicious heart 
is at the bottom of it. People in this condition 
and they form the great bulk of humanity must 



be led and controlled as well as may be, even if 
it be by really superstitious motives; until such 
time as they become susceptible to truer and better 
ones. As an instance of the direct working of 
religion, may be cited the fact, common enough, in 
Italy especially, of a thief restoring stolen goods, 
through the influence of his confessor, who says he 
won t absolve him if he doesn t. Think again of 
the case of an oath, where religion shows a most 
decided influence; whether it be that a man places 
himself expressly in the position of a purely moral 
being, and as such looks upon himself as solemnly 
appealed to, as seems to be the case in France, 
where the formula is simply je le jure, and also 
among the Quakers, whose solemn yea or nay is 
regarded as a substitute for the oath; or whether 
it be that a man really believes he is pronouncing 
something which may affect his eternal happiness, 
a belief which is presumably only the investiture 
of the former feeling. At any rate, religious con 
siderations are a means of awakening and calling 
out a man s moral nature. How often it happens 
that a man agrees to take a false oath, and then, 
when it comes to the point, suddenly refuses, and 
truth and right win the day. 

Philalethes. Oftener still false oaths are really 
taken, and truth and right trampled under foot, 
though all witnesses of the oath know it well! 
Still you are quite right to quote the oath as an 
undeniable example of the practical efficacy of re 
ligion. But, in spite of all you ve said, I doubt 
whether the efficacy of religion goes much beyond 
this. Just think; if a public proclamation were 
suddenly made announcing the repeal of all the 
criminal laws; I fancy neither you nor I would 
have the courage to go home from here under the 


protection of religious motives. If, in the same 
way, all religions were declared untrue, we could, 
under the protection of the laws alone, go on living 
as before, without any special addition to our ap 
prehensions or our measures of precaution. I will 
go beyond this, and say that religions have very 
frequently exercised a decidedly demoralizing in 
fluence. One may say generally that duties towards 
God and duties towards humanity are in inverse 
ratio. It is easy to let adulation of the Deity make 
It is easy to let adulation of the Deity make 
amends for lack of proper behavior towards man. 
And so we see that in all times and in all countries 
the great majority of mankind find it much easier 
to beg their way to heaven by prayers than to de 
serve to go there by their actions. In every re 
ligion it soon comes to be the case that faith, cere 
monies, rites and the like, are proclaimed to be 
more agreeable to the Divine will than moral ac 
tions; the former, especially if they are bound up 
with the emoluments of the clergy, gradually come 
to be looked upon as a substitute for the latter. 
Sacrifices in temples, the saying of masses, the 
founding of chapels, the planting of crosses by the 
roadside, soon come to be the most meritorious 
works, so that even great crimes are expiated by 
them, as also by penance, subjection to priestly 
authority, confessions, pilgrimages, donations to 
the temples and the clergy, the building of mon 
asteries and the like. The consequence of all this 
is that the priests finally appear as middlemen in 
the corruption of the gods. And if matters don t 
go quite so far as that, where is the religion whose 
adherents don t consider prayers, praise and mani 
fold acts of devotion, a substitute, at least in part, 
for moral conduct? Look at England, where by 


an audacious piece of priestcraft, the Christian Sun 
day, introduced by Constantine the Great as a 
subject for the Jewish Sabbath, is in a mendacious 
way identified with it, and takes its name, and 
this in order that the commands of Jehovah for the 
Sabbath (that is, the day on which the Almighty 
had to rest from his six days labor, so that it is 
essentially the last day of the week,) might be ap 
plied to the Christian Sunday, the dies soils, the first 
day of the week which the sun opens in glory, the 
day of devotion and joy. The consequence of this 
fraud is that "Sabbath-breaking," or "the desecra 
tion of the Sabbath," that is, the slightest occupa 
tion, whether of business or pleasure, all games, 
music, sewing, worldly books, are on Sundays 
looked upon as great sins. Surely the ordinary 
man must believe that if, as his spiritual guides 
impress upon him, he is only constant in "a strict 
observance of the holy Sabbath," and is "a regular 
attendant at Divine Service," that is, if he only 
invariably idles away his time on Sundays, and 
doesn t fail to sit two hours in church to hear the 
same litany for the thousandth time and mutter 
it in tune with the others, he may reckon on in 
dulgence in regard to those little peccadilloes which 
he occasionally allows himself. Those devils in 
human form, the slave owners and slave traders in 
the Free States of North America (they should 
be called the Slave States) are, as a rule, orthodox, 
pious Anglicans who would consider it a grave sin 
to work on Sundays; and having confidence in this, 
and their regular attendance at church, they hope 
for eternal happiness. The demoralizing tendency 
of religion is less problematical than its moral in 
fluence. How great and how certain that moral in 
fluence must be to make amends for the enormities 


which religions, especially the Christian and Mo 
hammedan religions, have produced and spread 
over the earth! Think of the fanaticism, the end 
less persecutions, the religious wars, that sanguin 
ary frenzy of which the ancients had no concep 
tion! think of the crusades, a butchery lasting two 
hundred years and inexcusable, its war cry "It is 
the will of God," its object to gain possession of 
the grave of one who preached love and sufferance ! 
think of the cruel expulsion and extermination of 
the Moors and Jews from Spain! think of the 
orgies of blood, the inquisitions, the heretical tri 
bunals, the bloody and terrible conquests of the 
Mohammedans in three continents, or those of 
Christianity in America, whose inhabitants were 
for the most part, and in Cuba entirely, extermi 
nated. According to Las Cases, Christianity 
murdered twelve millions in forty years, of course 
all in majorem Dei gloriam, and for the propaga 
tion of the Gospel, and because what wasn t Chris 
tian wasn t even looked upon as human! I have, 
it is true, touched upon these matters before; but 
when in our day, we hear of Latest News from 
the Kingdom of God, 1 we shall not be weary of 
bringing old news to mind. And above all, don t 
let us forget India, the cradle of the human race, 
or at least of that part of it to which we belong, 
where first Mohammedans, and then Christians, 
were most cruelly infuriated against the adherents 
of the original faith of mankind. The destruction 
or disfigurement of the ancient temples and idols, 
a lamentable, mischievous and barbarous act, still 
bears witness to the monotheistic fury of the Mo 
hammedans, carried on from Marmud, the Ghaz- 

1 A missionary paper, of which the 40th annual number ap 
peared in 1856. 


nevid of cursed memory, down to Aureng Zeb, the 
fratricide, whom the Portuguese Christians have 
zealously imitated by destruction of temples and 
the auto de fe of the inquisition at Goa. Don t 
let us forget the chosen people of God, who after 
they had, by Jehovah s express command, stolen 
from their old and trusty friends in Egypt the gold 
and silver vessels which had been lent to them, 
made a murderous and plundering inroad into "the 
Promised Land," with the murderer Moses at 
their head, to tear it from the rightful owners, 
again, by the same Jehovah s express and repeated 
commands, showing no mercy, exterminating the 
inhabitants, women, children and all (Joshua, ch. 
9 and 10). And all this, simply because they 
weren t circumcised and didn t know Jehovah, 
which was reason enough to justify every enormity 
against them; just as for the same reason, in earlier 
times, the infamous knavery of the patriarch Jacob 
and his chosen people against Hamor, King of 
Shalem, and his people, is reported to his glory be 
cause the people were unbelievers ! ( Genesis xxxiii. 
18.) Truly, it is the worst side of religions that 
the believers of one religion have allowed them 
selves every sin again those of another, and with 
the utmost ruffianism and cruelty persecuted them ; 
the Mohammedans against the Christians and 
Hindoos ; the Christians against the Hindoos, Mo 
hammedans, American natives, Negroes, Jews, 
heretics, and others. 

Perhaps I go too far in saying all religions. For 
the sake of truth, I must add that the fanatical 
enormities perpetrated in the name of religion are 
only to be put down to the adherents of mono 
theistic creeds, that is, the Jewish faith and its two 
branches, Christianity and Islamism. We hear of 


nothing of the kind in the case of Hindoos and 
Buddhists. Although it is a matter of common 
knowledge that about the fifth century of our era 
Buddhism was driven out by the Brahmans from 
its ancient home in the southernmost part of the 
Indian peninsula, and afterwards spread over the 
whole of the rest of Asia, as far as I know, we have 
no definite account of any crimes of violence, or 
wars, or cruelties, perpetrated in the course of it. 

That may, of course, be attributable to the ob 
scurity which veils the history of those countries; 
but the exceedingly mild character of their religion, 
together with their unceasing inculcation of for 
bearance towards all living things, and the fact that 
Brahmanism by its caste system properly admits 
no proselytes, allows one to hope that their ad 
herents may be acquitted of shedding blood on a 
large scale, and of cruelty in any form. S pence 
Hardy, in his excellent book on Eastern Mon- 
acMsm, praises the extraordinary tolerance of the 
Buddhists, and adds his assurance that the annals 
of Buddhism will furnish fewer instances of re 
ligious persecution than those of any other religion. 

As a matter of fact, it is only to monotheism 
that intolerance is essential; an only god is by his 
nature a jealous god, who can allow no other god 
to exist. Polytheistic gods, on the other hand, are 
naturally tolerant ; .they live and let live ; their own 
colleagues are the chief objects of their sufferance, 
as being gods of the same religion. This toleration 
is afterwards extended to foreign gods, who are, 
accordingly, hospitably received, and later on ad 
mitted, in some cases, to an equality of rights; 
the chief example of which is shown by the fact, 
that the Romans willingly admitted and venerated 
Phrygian, Egyptian and other gods. Hence it is 


that monotheistic religions alone furnish the spec 
tacle of religious wars, religious persecutions, 
heretical tribunals, that breaking of idols and de 
struction of images of the gods, that razing of 
Indian temples, and Egyptian colossi, which had 
looked on the sun three thousand years, just be 
cause a jealous god had said, Thou shall make no 
graven image. 

But to return to the chief point. You are cer 
tainly right in insisting on the strong metaphysical 
needs of mankind; but religion appears to me to 
be not so much a satisfaction as an abuse of those 
needs. At any rate we have seen that in regard 
to the furtherance of morality, its utility is, for the 
most part, problematical, its disadvantages, and 
especially the atrocities which have followed in its 
train, are patent to the light of day. Of course 
it is quite a different matter if we consider the 
utility of religion as a prop of thrones; for where 
these are held "by the grace of God," throne and 
altar are intimately associated; and every wise 
prince who loves his throne and his family will ap 
pear at the head of his people as an exemplar of 
true religion. Even Machiavelli, in the eighteenth 
chapter of his book, most earnestly recommended 
religion to princes. Beyond this, one may say that 
revealed religions stand to philosophy exactly in 
the relation of "sovereigns by the grace of God," 
to "the sovereignty of the people"; so that the two 
former terms of the parallel are in natural alliance. 

Demopheles. Oh, don t take that tone ! You re 
going hand in hand with ochlocracy and anarchy, 
the arch enemy of all legislative order, all civiliza 
tion and all humanity. 

Philalethes. You are right. It was only a 
sophism of mine, what the fencing master calls a 


feint. I retract it. But see how disputing some 
times makes an honest man unjust and malicious. 
Let us stop. 

Demopheles. I can t help regretting that, after 
all the trouble I ve taken, I haven t altered your 
disposition in regard to religion. On the other 
hand, I can assure you that everything you have 
said hasn t shaken my conviction of its high value 
and necessity. 

Philalethes. I fully believe you ; for, as we may 
read in Hudibras 

A man convinced against his will 
Is of the same opinion still. 

My consolation is that, alike in controversies and in 
taking mineral waters, the after effects are the true 

Demopheles. Well, I hope it ll be beneficial in 
your case. 

Philalethes. It might be so, if I could digest a 
certain Spanish proverb: 

Demopheles. Which is? 

Philalethes. Behind the cross stands the devil. 

Demopheles. Come, don t let us part with sar 
casms. Let us rather admit that religion, like 
Janus, or better still, like the Brahman god of 
death, Yama, has two faces, and like him, one 
friendly, the other sullen. Each of us has kept his 
eye fixed on one alone. 

Philalethes. You are right, old fellow. 


THE controversy between Theism and Pantheism 
might be presented in an allegorical or dramatic 
form by supposing a dialogue between two persons 
in the pit of a theatre at Milan during the per 
formance of a piece. One of them, convinced that 
he is in Girolamo s renowned marionette-theatre, 
admires the art by which the director gets up the 
dolls and guides their movements. "Oh, you are 
quite mistaken," says the other, "we re in the 
Teatro della Scala; it is the manager and his troupe 
who are on the stage ; they are the persons you see 
before you; the poet too is taking a part." 

The chief objection I have to Pantheism is that 
it says nothing. To call the world "God" is not 
to explain it; it is only to enrich our language with 
a superfluous synonym for the word "world." It 
comes to the same thing whether you say "the world 
is God," or "God is the world." But if you start 
from "God" as something that is given in experi 
ence, and has to be explained, and they say, "God 
is the world," you are affording what is to some 
extent an explanation, in so far as you are reducing 
what is unknown to what is partly known (ignotum 
per notius) ; but it is only a verbal explanation. 
If, however, you start from what is really given, 
that is to say, from the world, and say, "the world 
is God," it is clear that you say nothing, or at least 
you are explaining what is unknown by what is 
more unknown. 

Hence, Pantheism presupposes Theism; only in 



so far as you start from a god, that is, in so far 
as you possess him as something with which you 
are already familiar, can you end by identifying 
him with the world; and your purpose in doing so 
is to put him out of the way in a decent fashion. In 
other words, you do not start clear from the world 
as something that requires explanation; you start 
from God as something that is given, and not know 
ing what to do with him, you make the world take 
over his role. This is the origin of Pantheism. 
Taking an unprejudiced view of the world as it is, 
no one would dream of regarding it as a god. It 
must be a very ill-advised god who knows no better 
way of diverting himself than by turning into such 
a world as ours, such a mean, shabby world, there 
to take the form of innumerable millions who live 
indeed, but are fretted and tormented, and who 
manage to exist a while together, only by preying 
on one another; to bear misery, need and death, 
without measure and without object, in the form, for 
instance, of millions of negro slaves, or of the three 
million weavers in Europe who, in hunger and care, 
lead a miserable existence in damp rooms or the 
cheerless halls of a factory. What a pastime this 
for a god, who must, as such, be used to another 
mode of existence! 

We find acordingly that what is described as the 
great advance from Theism to Pantheism, if looked 
at seriously, and not simply as a masked negation 
of the sort indicated above, is a transition from 
what is unproved and hardly conceivable to what 
is absolutely absurd. For however obscure, however 
loose or confused may be the idea which we con 
nect with the word "God," there are two predicates 
which are inseparable from it, the highest power 
and the highest wisdom. It is absolutely absurd 


to think that a being endowed with these qualities 
should have put himself into the position described 
above. Theism, on the other hand, is something 
which is merely unproved; and if it is difficult to 
look upon the infinite world as the work of a per 
sonal, and therefore individual, Being, the like of 
which we know only from our experience of the 
animal world, it is nevertheless not an absolutely 
absurd idea. That a Being, at once almighty and 
all-good, should create a world of torment is always 
conceivable; even though we do not know why he 
does so; and accordingly we find that when people 
ascribe the height of goodness to this Being, they 
set up the inscrutable nature of his wisdom as the 
refuge by which the doctrine escapes the charge of 
absurdity. Pantheism, however, assumes that the 
creative God is himself the world of infinite tor 
ment, and, in this little world alone, dies every 
second, and that entirely of his own will; which is 
absurd. It would be much more correct to identify 
the world with the devil, as the venerable author of 
the Deutsche Theologie has, in fact, done in a pas 
sage of his immortal work, where he says, ff Where 
fore the evil spirit and nature are one, and where 
nature is not overcome, neither is the evil adversary 


It is manifest that the Pantheists give the San- 
sara the name of God. The same name is given by 
the Mystics to the Nirvana. The latter, however, 
state more about the Nirvana than they know, 
which is not done by the Buddhists, whose Nirvana 
is accordingly a relative nothing. It is only Jews, 
Christians, and Mohammedans who give its proper 
and correct meaning to the word "God." 

The expression, often heard now-a-days, the 
world is an end-in-itself," leaves it uncertain 


whether Pantheism or a simple Fatalism is to be 
taken as the explanation of it. But, whichever it 
be, the expression looks upon the world from a 
physical point of view only, and leaves out of sight 
its moral significance, because you cannot assume 
a moral significance without presenting the world 
as means to a higher end. The notion that the 
world has a physical but not a moral meaning, is 
the most mischievous error sprung from the greatest 
mental perversity. 


IGNORANCE is degrading only when found in 
company with riches. The poor man is restrained 
by poverty and need: labor occupies his thoughts, 
and takes the place of knowledge. But rich men 
who are ignorant live for their lusts only, and are 
like the beasts of the field; as may be seen every 
day : and they can also be reproached for not having 
used wealth and leisure for that which gives them 
their greatest value. 

When we read, another person thinks for us : we 
merely repeat his mental process. In learning to 
write, the pupil goes over with his pen what the 
teacher has outlined in pencil: so in reading; the 
greater part of the work of thought is already done 
for us. This is why it relieves us to take up a book 
after being occupied with our own thoughts. And 
in reading, the mind is, in fact, only the playground 
of another s thoughts. So it comes about that if 
anyone spends almost the whole day in reading, 
and by way of relaxation devotes the intervals to 
some thoughtless pastime, he gradually loses the 
capacity for thinking; just as the man who always 
rides, at last forgets how to walk. This is the case 
with many learned persons: they have read them 
selves stupid. For to occupy every spare moment 
in reading, and to do nothing but read, is even 
more paralyzing to the mind than constant manual 
labor, which at least allows those engaged in it to 
follow their own thoughts. A spring never free 



from the pressure of some foreign body at last 
loses its elasticity; and so does the mind if other 
people s thoughts are constantly forced upon it. 
Just as you can ruin the stomach and impair the 
whole body by taking too much nourishment, so 
you can overfill and choke the mind by feeding it 
too much. The more you read, the fewer are the 
traces left by what you have read: the mind be 
comes like a tablet crossed over and over with writ 
ing. There is no time for ruminating, and in no 
other way can you assimilate what you have read. 
If you read on and on without setting your own 
thoughts to work, what you have read can not strike 
root, and is generally lost. It is, in fact, just the 
same with mental as with bodily food: hardly the 
fifth part of what one takes is assimilated. The 
rest passes off in evaporation, respiration and the 

The result of all this is that thoughts put on 
paper are nothing more than footsteps in the sand : 
you see the way the man has gone, but to know 
what he saw on his walk, you want his eyes. 

There is no quality of style that can be gained 
by reading writers who possess it; whether it be 
persuasiveness, imagination, the gift of drawing 
comparisons, boldness, bitterness, brevity, grace, 
ease of expression or wit, unexpected contrasts, a 
laconic or naive manner, and the like. But if these 
qualities are already in us, exist, that is to say, 
potentially, we can call them forth and bring them 
to consciousness; we can learn the purposes to 
which they can be put; we can be strengthened in 
our inclination to use them, or get courage to do 
so; we can judge by examples the effect of apply 
ing them, and so acquire the correct use of them; 


and of course it is only when we have arrived at 
that point that we actually possess these qualities. 
The only way in which reading can form style is 
by teaching us the use to which we can put our 
own natural gifts. We must have these gifts be 
fore we begin to learn the use of them. Without 
them, reading teaches us nothing but cold, dead 
mannerisms and makes us shallow imitators. 

The strata of the earth preserve in rows the crea 
tures which lived in former ages; and the array of 
books on the shelves of a library stores up in like 
manner the errors of the past and the way in which 
they have been exposed. Like those creatures, they 
too were full of life in their time, and made a great 
deal of noise; but now they are stiff and fossilized, 
and an ob j ect of curiosity to the literary palaeontol 
ogist alone. 

Herodotus relates that Xerxes wept at the sight 
of his army, which stretched further than the eye 
could reach, in the thought that of all these, after 
a hundred years, not one would be alive. And in 
looking over a huge catalogue of new books, one 
might weep at thinking that, when ten years have 
passed, not one of them will be heard of. 

It is in literature as in life: wherever you turn, 
you stumble at once upon the incorrigible mob of 
humanity, swarming in all directions, crowding and 
soiling everything, like flies in summer. Hence 
the number, which no man can count, of bad books, 
those rank weeds of literature, which draw nourish 
ment from the corn and choke it. The time, money 
and attention of the public, which rightfully belong 
to good books and their noble aims, they take for 


themselves: they are written for the mere purpose 
of making money or procuring places. So they 
are not only useless; they do positive mischief. 
Nine-tenths of the whole of our present literature 
has no other aim than to get a few shillings out of 
the pockets of the public; and to this end author, 
publisher and reviewer are in league. 

Let me mention a crafty and wicked trick, albeit 
a profitable and successful one, practised by litter 
ateurs, hack writers, and voluminous authors. In 
complete disregard of good taste and the true cul 
ture of the period, they have succeeded in getting 
the whole of the world of fashion into leading 
strings, so that they are all trained to read in time, 
and all the same thing, viz., the newest books; and 
that for the purpose of getting food for conversa 
tion in the circles in which they move. This is 
the aim served by bad novels, produced by writers 
who were once celebrated, as Spindler, Bulwer 
Lytton, Eugene Sue. What can be more miserable 
than the lot of a reading public like this, always 
bound to peruse the latest works of extremely com 
monplace persons who write for money only, and 
who are therefore never few in number? and for 
this advantage they are content to know by name 
only the works of the few superior minds of all ages 
and all countries. Literary newspapers, too, are a 
singularly cunning device for robbing the reading 
public of the time which, if culture is to be attained, 
should be devoted to the genuine productions of 
literature, instead of being occupied by the daily 
bungling commonplace persons. 

Hence, in regard to reading, it is a very im 
portant thing to be able to refrain. Skill in doing 
so consists in not taking into one s hands any book 
merely because at the time it happens to be ex- 


tensively read; such as political or religious pam 
phlets, novels, poetry, and the like, which make a 
noise, and may even attain to several editions in 
the first and last year of their existence. Consider, 
rather, that the man who writes for fools is always 
sure of aTTarge audience; be careful to -limit* your 
time for reading, and devote it exclusively to the 
works of those great minds of all times and coun 
tries, who o ertop the rest of humanity, those whom 
the voice of fame points to as such. These alone 
really educate and instruct. You can never read 
bad literature too little, nor good literature too 
much. Bad books are intellectual poison; they de 
stroy the mind. Because people always read what 
is new instead of the best of all ages, writers remain 
in the narrow circle of the ideas which happen to 
prevail in their time ; and so the period sinks deeper 
and deeper into its own mire. 

There are at all times two literatures in progress, 
running side by side, but little known to each 
other; the one real, the other only apparent. The 
former grows into permanent literature ;_itjs pur 
sued by those who live for science or poetry; its 
course is sober and quiet, but extremely slow; and 
it produces in Europe scarcely a dozen works in 
a century; these, however, are permanent. The 
other kind is pursued by persons who live on science 
or poetry; it goes at a gallop with much noise and 
shouting of partisans ; and every twelve-month puts 
a thousand works on the market. But after a few 
years one asks, Where are they? where is the glory 
which came so soon and made so much clamor? 
This kind may be called fleeting, and the other, 
permanent literature. 


In the history of politics, half a century is al 
ways a considerable time; the matter which goes 
to form them is ever on the move; there is always 
something going on. But in the history of litera 
ture there is often a complete standstill for the 
same period; nothing has happened, for clumsy at 
tempts don t count. You are just where you were 
fifty years previously. 

To explain what I mean, let me compare the 
advance of knowledge among mankind to the course 
taken by a planet. The false paths on which hu 
manity usually enters after every important ad 
vance are like the epicycles in the Ptolemaic system, 
and after passing through one of them, the world 
is just where it was before it entered it. But the 
great minds, who really bring the race further on 
its course do not accompany it on the epicycles 
it makes from time to time. This explains why 
posthumous fame is often bought at the expense 
of contemporary praise, and vice versa. An in 
stance of such an epicycle is the philosophy started 
by Fichte and Schelling, and crowned by Hegel s 
caricature of it. This epicycle was a deviation 
from the limit to which philosophy had been ulti 
mately brought by Kant; and at that point I took 
it up again afterwards, to carry it further. In 
the intervening period the sham philosophers I 
have mentioned and some others went through their 
epicycle, which had just come to an end; so that 
those who went with them on their course are con 
scious of the fact that they are exactly at the point 
from which they started. 

This circumstance explains why it is that, every 
thirty years or so, science, literature, and art, as 
expressed in the spirit of the time, are declared 
bankrupt. The errors which appear from time to 
time amount to such a height in that period that 


the mere weight of their absurdity makes the fabric 
fall; whilst the opposition to them has been gather 
ing force at the same time. So an upset takes 
place, often followed by an error in the opposite 
direction. To exhibit these movements in their 
periodical return would be the true practical aim 
of the history of literature: little attention, how 
ever, is paid to it. And besides, the comparatively 
short duration of these periods makes it difficult 
to collect the data of epochs long gone by, so that 
it is most convenient to observe how the matter 
stands in one s own generation. An instance of 
this tendency, drawn from physical science, is sup 
plied in the Neptunian geology of Werter. 

But let me keep strictly to the example cited 
above, the nearest we can take. In German 
philosophy, the brilliant epoch of Kant was im 
mediately followed by a period which aimed rather 
at being imposing than at convincing. Instead of 
being thorough and clear, it tried to be dazzling, 
hyperbolical, and, in a special degree, unintelligible : 
instead of seeking truth, it intrigued. Philosophy 
could make no progress in this fashion; and at last 
the whole school and its method became bankrupt. 
For the effrontery of Hegel and his fellows came 
to such a pass, whether because they talked such 
sophisticated nonsense, or were so unscrupulously 
puffed, or because the entire aim of this pretty 
piece of work was quite obvious, that in the end 
there was nothing to prevent charlatanry of the 
whole business from becoming manifest to every 
body: and when, in consequence of certain dis 
closures, the favor it had enjoyed in high quarters 
was withdrawn, the system was openly ridiculed. 
This most miserable of all the meagre philosophies 
that have ever existed came to grief, and dragged 
down with it into the abysm of discredit, the sys- 


terns of Fichte and S dialling which had preceded 
it. And so, as far as Germany is concerned, the 
total philosophical incompetence of the first half 
of the century following upon Kant is quite plain: 
and still the Germans boast of their talent for 
philosophy in comparison with foreigners, espe 
cially since an English writer has been so mali 
ciously ironical as to call them "a nation of 

For an example of the general system of epi 
cycles drawn from the history of art, look at the 
school of sculpture which flourished in the last 
century and took its name from Bernini, more 
especially at the development of it which prevailed 
in France. The ideal of this school was not antique 
beauty, but commonplace nature: instead of the 
simplicity and grace of ancient art, it represented 
the manners of a French minuet. 

This tendency became bankrupt when, under 
Winkelman s direction, a return was made to the 
antique school. The history of painting furnishes 
an illustration in the first quarter of the century, 
when art was looked upon merely as a means and 
instrument of mediaeval religious sentiment, and its 
themes consequently drawn from ecclesiastical 
subjects alone: these, however, were treated by 
painters who had none of the true earnestness of 
faith, and in their delusion they followed Francesco 
Francia, Pietro Perugino, Angelico da Fiesole 
and others like them, rating them higher even than 
the really great masters who followed. It was in 
view of this terror, and because in poetry an analo 
gous aim had at the same time found favor, that 
Goethe wrote his parable Pfaffenspiel. This 
school, too, got the reputation of being whimsical, 
became bankrupt, and was followed by a return to 


nature, which proclaimed itself in genre pictures 
and scenes of life of every kind, even though it now 
and then strayed into what was vulgar. 

The progress of the human mind in literature is 
similar. The history of literature is for the most 
part like the catalogue of a museum of deformities ; 
the spirit in which they keep best is pigskin. The 
few creatures that have been born in goodly shape 
need not be looked for there. They are still alive, 
and are everywhere to be met with in the world, 
immortal, and with their years ever green. They 
alone form what I have called real literature; the 
history of which, poor as it is in persons, we learn 
from our youth up out of the mouths of all edu 
cated people, before compilations recount it for us. 

As an antidote to the prevailing monomania for 
reading literary histories, in order to be able to 
chatter about everything, without having any real 
knowledge at all, let me refer to a passage in 
Lichtenberg s works (vol. II., p. 302) , which is well 
worth perusal. 

I believe that the over-minute acquaintance with the history 
of science and learning, which is such a prevalent feature of 
our day, is very prejudicial to the advance of knowledge itself. 
There is pleasure in following up this history; but as a matter 
of fact, it leaves the mind, not empty indeed, but without any 
power of its own, just because it makes it so full. Whoever 
has felt the desire, not to fill up his mind, but to strengthen it, 
to develop his faculties and aptitudes, and generally, to enlarge 
his powers, will have found that there is nothing so weakening 
as intercourse with a so-called litterateur, on a matter of knowl 
edge on which he has not thought at all, though he knows a 
thousand little facts appertaining to its history and literature. 
It is like reading a cookery-book when you are hungry. I 
believe that so-called literary history will never thrive amongst 
thoughtful people, who are conscious of their own worth and 
the worth of real knowledge. These people are more given to 
employing their own reason than to troubling themselves to 
know how others have employed theirs. The worst of it is that, 
as you will find, the more knowledge takes the direction of 


literary research, the less the power of promoting knowledge be 
comes; the only thing that increases is pride in the possession of 
it. Such persons believe that they possess knowledge in a greater 
degree than those who really possess it. It is surely a well- 
founded remark, that knowledge never makes its possessor proud. 
Those alone let themselves be blown out with pride, who in 
capable of extending knowledge in their own persons, occupy 
themselves with clearing up dark points in its history, or are 
able to recount what others have done. They are proud, because 
they consider this occupation, which is mostly of a mechanical 
nature, the practice of knowledge. I could illustrate what I 
mean by examples, but it would be an odious task. 

Still, I wish some one would attempt a tragical 
history of literature, giving the way in which the 
writers and artists, who form the produest posses 
sion of the various nations which have given them 
birth, have been treated by them during their lives. 
Such a history would exhibit the ceaseless warfare, 
which what was good and genuine in all times and 
countries has had to wage with what was bad and 
perverse. It would tell of the martyrdom of almost 
all those who truly enlightened humanity, of almost 
all the great masters of every kind of art : it would 
show us how, with few exceptions, they were tor 
mented to death, without recognition, without sym 
pathy, without followers ; how they lived in poverty 
and misery, whilst fame, honor, and riches, were 
the lot of the unworthy; how their fate was that 
of Esau, who while he was hunting and getting 
venison for his father, was robbed of the blessing 
by Jacob, disguised in his brother s clothes, how, 
in spite of all, they were kept up by the love of 
their work, until at last the bitter fight of the 
teacher of humanity is over, until the immortal 
laurel is held out to him, and the hour strikes when 
it can be said: 

Der schwere Panzer wird zum Fliigelkleide 

Kurz ist der Schmerz, unendlich ist die Freude. 


THAT the outer man is a picture of the inner, 
and the face an expression and revelation of the 
whole character, is a presumption likely enough in 
itself, and therefore a safe one to go by; evidenced 
as it is by the fact that people are always anxious 
to see anyone who has made himself famous by 
good or evil, or as the author of some extraordinary 
work; or if they cannot get a sight of him, to hear 
at any rate from others what he looks like. So 
people go to places where they may expect to see 
the person who interests them ; the press, especially 
in England, endeavors to give a minute and strik 
ing description of his appearance , painters and en 
gravers lose no time in putting him visibly before 
us; and finally photography, on that very account 
of such high value, affords the most complete satis 
faction of our curiosity. It is also a fact that in 
private life everyone criticises the physiognomy 
of those he comes across, first of all secretly trying 
to discern their intellectual and moral character 
from their features. This would be a useless pro 
ceeding if, as some foolish people fancy, the ex 
terior of a man is a matter of no account; if, as 
they think, the soul is one thing and the body an 
other, and the body related to the soul merely as the 
<ioat to the man himself. 

On the contrary, every human face is a hiero 
glyphic, and a hieroglyphic, too, which admits of 
being deciphered, the alphabet of which we carry 
about with us already perfected. As a matter of 
fact, the face of a man gives us a fuller and more 



interesting information than his tongue; for his 
face is the compendium of all he will ever say, as 
it is the one record of all his thoughts and endeavors. 
And, moreover, the tongue tells the thought of one 
man only, whereas the face expresses a thought of 
nature itself: so that everyone is worth attentive 
observation, even though everyone may not be 
worth talking to. And if every individual is worth 
observation as a single thought of nature, how much 
more so is beauty, since it is a higher and more 
general conception of nature, is, in fact, her thought 
of a species. This is why beauty is so captivating: 
it is a fundamental thought of nature : whereas the 
individual is only a by-thought, a corollary. 

In private, people always proceed upon the 
principle that a man is what he looks; and the 
principle is a right one, only the difficulty lies in 
its application. For though the art of applying 
the principle is partly innate and may be partly 
gained by experience, no one is a master of it, and 
even the most experienced is not infallible. But 
for all that, whatever Figaro may say, it is not the 
face which deceives ; it is we who deceive ourselves 
in reading in it what is not there. 

The deciphering of a face is certainly a great and 
difficult art, and the principles of it can never be 
learnt in the abstract. The first condition of suc 
cess is to maintain a purely objective point of 
view, which is no easy matter. For, as soon as the 
faintest trace of anything subjective is present, 
whether dislike or favor, or fear or hope, or even 
the thought of the impression we ourselves are mak 
ing upon the object of our attention the characters 
we are trying to decipher become confused and cor 
rupt. The sound of a language is really appre 
ciated only by one who does not understand it, and 
that because, in thinking of the signification of a 


word, we pay no regard to the sign itself. So, in 
the same way, a physiognomy is correctly gauged 
only by one to whom it is still strange, who has not 
grown accustomed to the face by constantly meet 
ing and conversing with the man himself. It is, 
therefore, strictly speaking, only the first sight of 
a man which affords that purely objective viev? 
which is necessary for deciphering his features. An 
odor affects us only when we first come in contact 
with it, and the first glass of wine is the one which 
gives us its true taste: in the same way, it is only 
at the first encounter that a face makes its fuD 
impression upon us. Consequently the first im 
pression should be carefully attended to and noted, 
even written down if the subject of it is of personal 
importance, provided, of course, that one can trust 
one s own sense of physiognomy. Subsequent ac 
quaintance and intercourse will obliterate the im 
pression, but time will one day prove whether it is 

Let us, however, not conceal from ourselves the 
fact that this first impression is for the most part 
extremely unedifying. How poor most faces are! 
With the exception of those that are beautiful, 
good-natured, or intellectual, that is to say, the 
very few and far between, I believe a person of 
any fine feeling scarcely ever sees a new face with 
out a sensation akin to a shock, for the reason that 
it presents a new and surprising combination of 
unedifying elements. To tell the truth, it is, as a 
rule, a sorry sight. There are some people whose 
faces bear the stamp of such artless vulgarity and 
baseness of character, such an animal limitation of 
intelligence, that one wonders how they can appear 
hi public with such a countenance, instead of wear 
ing a mask. There are faces, indeed, the very sight 
of which produces a feeling of pollution. One can- 


not, therefore, take it amiss of people, whose privi 
leged position admits of it, if they manage to live 
in retirement and completely free from the painful 
sensation of "seeing new faces." The metaphysical 
explanation of this circumstance rests upon the 
consideration that the individuality of a man is 
precisely that by the very existence of which he 
should be reclaimed and corrected. If, on the other 
hand, a psychological explanation is satisfactory, 
let any one ask himself what kind of physiognomy 
he may expect in those who have all their life long, 
except on the rarest occasions, harbored nothing 
but petty, base and miserable thoughts, and vulgar, 
selfish, envious, wicked and malicious desires., 
Every one of these thoughts and desires has set its 
mark upon the face during the time it lasted, and 
by constant repetition, all these marks have in 
course of time become furrows and blotches, so to 
speak. Consequently, most people s appearance is 
such as to produce a shock at first sight; and it is 
only gradually that one gets accustomed to it, that 
is to say, becomes so deadened to the impression 
that it has no more effect on one. 

And that the prevailing facial expression is the 
result of a long process of innumerable, fleeting 
and characteristic contractions of the features is 
just the reason why intellectual countenances are 
of gradual formation. It is, indeed, only in old age 
that intellectual men attain their sublime expres 
sion, whilst portraits of them in their youth show 
only the first traces of it. But on the other hand, 
what I have just said about the shock which the 
first sight of a face generally produces, is in keep 
ing with the remark that it is only at that first 
sight that it makes its true and full impression. 
For to get a purely objective and uncorrupted im 
pression of it, we must stand in no kind of relation 


to the person; if possible, we must not yet have 
spoken with him. For every conversation places 
us to some extent upon a friendly footing, estab 
lishes a certain rapport, a mutual subjective rela 
tion, which is at once unfavorable to an objective 
point of view. And as everyone s endeavor is to 
win esteem or friendship for himself, the man who 
is under observation will at once employ all those 
arts of dissimulation in which he is already versed, 
and corrupt us with his airs, hypocrisies and flat 
teries; so that what the first look clearly showed 
will soon be seen by us no more. 

This fact is at the bottom of the saying that 
"most people gain by further acquaintance"; it 
ought, however, to run, "delude us by it." It is 
only when, later on, the bad qualities manifest them 
selves, that our first judgment as a rule receives 
its justification and makes good its scornful verdict. 
It may be that "a further acquaintance" is an un 
friendly one, and if that is so, we do not find in 
this case either that people gain by it. Another 
reason why people apparently gain on a nearer 
acquaintance is that the man whose first aspect 
warns us from him, as soon as we converse with 
him, no longer shows his own being and character, 
but also his education; that is, not only what he 
really is by nature, but also what he has appro 
priated to himself out of the common wealth of 
mankind. Three-fourths of what he says belongs 
not to him, but to the sources from which he ob 
tained it; so that we are often surprised to hear 
a minotaur speak so humanly. If we make a still 
closer acquaintance, the animal nature, of which 
his face gave promise, will manifest itself "in all its 
splendor." If one is gifted with an acute sense for 
physiognomy, one should take special note of those 
verdicts which preceded a closer acquaintance and 


were therefore genuine. For the face of a man 
is the exact impression of what he is; and if he 
deceives us, that is our fault, not his. What a man 
says, on the other hand, is what he thinks, more 
often what he has learned, or it may be even, what 
he pretends to think. And besides this, when we 
talk to him, or even hear him talking to others, 
we pay no attention to his physiognomy proper. It 
is the underlying substance, the fundamental 
datum, and we disregard it; what interests us is 
its pathognomy, its play of feature during con 
versation. This, however, is so arranged as to turn 
the good side upwards. 

When Socrates said to a young man who was 
introduced to him to have his capabilities tested, 
"Talk in order that I may see you," if indeed by 
"seeing" he did not simply mean "hearing," he was 
right, so far as it is only in conversation that the 
features and especially the eyes become animated, 
and the intellectual resources and capacities set 
their mark upon the countenance. This puts us in 
a position to form a provisional notion of the de 
gree and capacity of intelligence ; which was in that 
case Socrates aim. But in this connection it is to 
be observed, firstly, that the rule does not apply to 
moral qualities, which lie deeper, and in the second 
place, that what from an objective point of view 
we gain by the clearer development of the counte 
nance in conversation, we lose from a subjective 
standpoint on account of the personal relation into 
which the speaker at once enters in regard to us, 
and which produces a slight fascination, so that, 
as explained above, we are not left impartial ob 
servers. Consequently from the last point of view 
we might say with greater accuracy, "Do not speak 
in order that I may see you." 

For to get a pure and fundamental conception 


of a man s physiognomy, we must observe him when 
he is alone and left to himself. Society of any kind 
and conversation throw a reflection upon him which 
is not his own, generally to his advantage; as he is 
thereby placed in a state of action and reaction 
which sets him off. But alone and left to himself, 
plunged in the depths of his own thoughts and 
sensations, he is wholly himself, and a penetrating 
eye for physiognomy can at one glance take a gen 
eral view of his entire character. For his face, 
looked at by and in itself, expresses the keynote of 
all his thoughts and endeavors, the arret irrevocable, 
the irrevocable decree of his destiny, the conscious 
ness of which only comes to him when he is alone. 

The study of physiognomy is one of the chief 
means of a knowledge of mankind, because the cast 
of a man s face is the only sphere in which his arts 
of dissimulation are of no avail, since these arts 
extended only to that play of feature which is akin 
to mimicry. And that is why I recommend such 
a study to be undertaken when the subject of it is 
alone and given up to his own thoughts, and before 
he is spoken to : and this partly for the reason that 
it is only in such a condition that inspection of the 
physiognomy pure and simple is possible, because 
conversation at once lets in a pathognomical ele 
ment, in which a man can apply the arts of dis 
simulation which he has learned: partly again be 
cause personal contact, even of the very slightest 
kind, gives a certain bias and so corrupts the judg 
ment of the observer. 

And in regard to the study of physiognomy in 
general, it is further to be observed that intellectual 
capacity is much easier of discernment than moral 
character. The former naturally takes a much 
more outward direction, and expresses itself not 
only in the face and the play of feature, but also in 


the gait, down even to the very slightest movement. 
One could perhaps discriminate from behind be 
tween a blockhead, a fool and a man of genius. The 
blockhead would be discerned by the torpidity and 
sluggishness of all his movements: folly sets its 
mark upon every gesture, and so does intellect 
and a studious nature. Hence that remark of La 
Bruyere that there is nothing so slight, so simple 
or imperceptible but that our way of doing it 
enters in and betrays us: a fool neither comes nor 
goes, nor sits down, nor gets up, nor holds his 
tongue, nor moves about in the same way as an in 
telligent man. (And this is, be it observed by 
way of parenthesis, the explanation of that sure 
and certain instinct which, according to Helvetius, 
ordinary folk possess of discerning people of genius, 
and of getting out of their way.) 

The chief reason for this is that, the larger and 
more developed the brain, and the thinner, in rela 
tion to it, the spine and nerves, the greater is the 
intellect; and not the intellect alone, but at the 
same time the mobility and pliancy of all the limbs ; 
because the brain controls them more immediately 
and resolutely ; so that everything hangs more upon 
a single thread, every movement of which gives a 
precise expression to its purpose. 

This is analogous to, nay, is immediately con 
nected with the fact that the higher an animal stands 
in the scale of development, the easier it becomes 
to kill it by wounding a single spot. Take, for 
example, batrachia: they are slow, cumbrous and 
sluggish in their movements; they are unintelli 
gent, and, at the same time, extremely tenacious 
of life; the reason of which is that, with a very 
small brain, their spine and nerves are very thick. 
Now gait and movement of the arms are mainly 
functions of the brain; our limbs receive their mo- 


tion and every little modification of it from the 
brain through the medium of the spine. 

This is why conscious movements fatigue us : the 
sensation of fatigue, like that of pain, has its seat 
in the brain, not, as people commonly suppose, in 
the limbs themselves; hence motion induces sleep. 

On the other hand those motions which are not 
excited by the brain, that is, the unconscious move 
ments of organic life, of the heart, of the lungs, etc., 
go on in their course without producing fatigue. 
And as thought, equally with motion, is a function 
of the brain, the character of the brain s activity is 
expressed equally in both, according to the consti 
tution of the individual; stupid people move like 
lay-figures, while every joint of an intelligent man 
is eloquent. 

But gesture and movement are not nearly so 
good an index of intellectual qualities as the face, 
the shape and size of the brain, the contraction and 
movement of the features, and above all the eye, 
from the small, dull, dead-looking eye of a pig up 
through all gradations to the irradiating, flashing 
eyes of a genius. 

The look of good sense and prudence, even of 
the best kind, differs from that of genius, in that 
the former bears the stamp of subjection to the 
will, while the latter is free from it. 

And therefore one can well believe the anecdote 
told by Squarzafichi in his life of Petrarch, and 
taken from Joseph Brivius, a contemporary of the 
poet, how once at the court of the Visconti, when 
Petrarch and other noblemen and gentlemen were 
present, Galeazzo Visconti told his son, who was 
then a mere boy (he was afterwards first Duke of 
Milan), to pick out the wisest of the company; 
how the boy looked at them all for a little, and 
then took Petrarch by the hand and led him up 


to his father, to the great admiration of all present. 
For so clearly does nature set the mark of her dig 
nity on the privileged among mankind that even 
a child can discern it. 

Therefore, I should advise my sagacious country 
men, if ever again they wish to trumpet about for 
thirty years a very commonplace person as a great 
genius, not to choose for the purpose such a beer- 
h3use-keeper physiognomy as was possessed by 
that philosopher, upon whose face nature had writ 
ten, in her clearest characters, the familiar inscrip 
tion, "commonplace person." 

But what applies to intellectual capacity will not 
apply to moral qualities, to character. It is more 
difficult to discern its physiognomy, because, being 
of a metaphysical nature, it lies incomparably 

It is true that moral character is also connected 
with the constitution, with the organism, but not 
so immediately or in such direct connection with 
definite parts of its system as is intellectual ca 

Hence while everyone makes a show of his 
intelligence and endeavors to exhibit it at every 
opportunity, as something with which he is in gen 
eral quite contented, few expose their moral quali 
ties freely, and most people intentionally cover 
them up; and long practice makes the concealment 
perfect. In the meantime, as I explained above, 
wicked thoughts and worthless efforts gradually 
set their mask upon the face, especially the eyes. 
So that, judging by physiognomy, it is easy to 
warrant that a given man will never produce an 
immortal work; but not that he will never commit 
a great crime. 


FOR every animal, and more especially for man, 
a certain conformity and proportion between the 
will and the intellect is necessary for existing or 
making any progress in the world. The more pre 
cise and correct the proportion which nature estab 
lishes, the more easy, safe and agreeable will be 
the passage through the world. Still, if the right 
point is only approximately reached, it will be 
enough to ward off destruction. There are, then, 
certain limits within which the said proportion may 
vary, and yet preserve a correct standard of con 
formity. The normal standard is as follows. The 
object of the intellect is to light and lead the will 
on its path, and therefore, the greater the force, 
impetus and passion, which spurs on the will from 
within, the more complete and luminous must be the 
intellect which is attached to it, that the vehement 
strife of the will, the glow of passion, and the in 
tensity of the emotions, may not lead man astray, 
or urge him on to ill considered, false or ruinous 
action; this will, inevitably, be the result, if the 
will is very violent and the intellect very weak. 
On the other hand, a phlegmatic character, a weak 
and languid will, can get on and hold its own with 
a small amount of intellect; what is naturally mod 
erate needs only moderate support. The general 
tendency of a want of proportion between the will 
and the intellect, in other words, of any variation 
from the normal proportion I have mentioned, is 
to produce unhappiness, whether it be that the will 
is / "eater than the intellect, or the intellect greater 
than the will. Especially is this the case when the 



intellect is developed to an abnormal degree of 
strength and superiority, so as to be out of all 
proportion to the will, a condition which is the 
essence of real genius ; the intellect is then not only 
more than enough for the needs and aims of life, 
it is absolutely prejudicial to them. The result is 
that, in youth, excessive energy in grasping the 
objective world, accompanied by a vivid imagina 
tion and a total lack of experience, makes the mind 
susceptible, and an easy prey to extravagant ideas, 
nay, even to chimeras ; and the result is an eccentric 
and phantastic character. And when, in later 
years, this state of mind yields and passes away 
under the teaching of experience, still the genius 
never feels himself at home in the common world 
of every day and the ordinary business of life; he 
will never take his place in it, and accommodate 
himself to it as accurately as the person of moral 
intellect; he will be much more likely to make 
curious mistakes. For the ordinary mind feels it 
self so completely at home in the narrow circle of 
its ideas and views of the world that no one can 
get the better of it in that sphere ; its faculties re 
main true to their original purpose, viz., to promote 
the service of the will; it devotes itself steadfastly 
to this end, and abjures extravagant aims. The 
genius, on the other hand, is at bottom a monstrum 
per excessum; just as, conversely, the passionate, 
violent and unintelligent man, the brainless bar 
barian, is a monstrum per defectum. 

# # * * 

The will to live, which forms the inmost core of 
every living being, exhibits itself most conspicu 
ously in the higher order of animals, that is, the 
cleverer ones; and so in them the nature of the 
will may be seen and examined most clearly. For 
in the lower orders its activity is not so evident; 


it has a lower degree of objectivation; whereas, in 
the class which stands above the higher order of 
animals, that is, in men, reason enters in ; and with 
reason comes discretion, and with discretion, the 
capacity of dissimulation, which throws a veil over 
the operations of the will. And in mankind, con 
sequently, the will appears without its mask only 
in the affections and the passions. And this is the 
reason why passion, when it speaks, always wins 
credence, no matter what the passion may be; and 
rightly so. For the same reason the passions are 
the main theme of peots and the stalking horse of 
actors. The conspicuousness of the will in the 
lower order of animals explains the delight we take 
in dogs, apes, cats, etc.; it is the entirely naive 
way in which they express themselves that gives 
us so much pleasure. 

The sight of any free animal going about its 
business undisturbed, seeking its food, or looking 
after its young, or mixing in the company of its 
kind, all the time being exactly what it ought to 
be and can be, what a strange pleasure it gives 
us ! Even if it is only a bird, I can watch it for a 
long time with delight; or a water rat or a hedge 
hog; or better still, a weasel, a deer, or a stag. The 
main reason why we take so much pleasure in look 
ing at animals is that we like to see our own nature 
in such a simplified form. There is only one menda 
cious being in the world, and that is man. Every 
other is true and sincere, and makes no attempt to 
conceal what it is, expressing its feelings just as 

they are. 

* * * * 

Many things are put down to the force of habit 
which are rather to be attributed to the constancy 
and immutability of original, innate character, ac 
cording to which under like circumstances we 


always do the same thing: whether it happens for 
the first or the hundredth time, it is in virtue of 
the same necessity. Real force of habit, as a matter 
of fact, rests upon that indolent, passive disposition 
which seeks to relieve the intellect and the will of 
a fresh choice, and so makes us do what we did 
yesterday and have done a hundred times before, 
and of which we know that it will attain its object. 
But the truth of the matter lies deeper, and a 
more precise explanation of it can be given than 
appears at first sight. Bodies which may be moved 
by mechanical means only are subject to the power 
of inertia; and applied to bodies which may be 
acted on by motives, this power becomes the force 
of habit. The actions which we perform by mere 
hibit come about, in fact, v/ithout any individual 
separate motive brought into play for the par 
ticular case: hence, in performing them, we really 
do not think about them. A motive was present 
only on the first few occasions on which the action 
happened, which has since become a habit: the 
secondary after-effect of this motive is the present 
habit, and it is sufficient to enable the action to 
continue: just as when a body had been set in 
motion by a push, it requires no more pushing in 
order to continue its motion; it will go on to all 
eternity, if it meets with no friction. It is the same 
in the case of animals: training is a habit which 
is forced upon them. The horse goes on drawing 
his cart quite contentedly, without having to be 
urged on: the motion is the continued effect of those 
strokes of the whip, which urged him on at first: 
by the law of inertia they have become perpetuated 
as habit. All this is really more than a mere 
parable: it is the underlying identity of the will at 
very different degrees of its objectivation, in virtue 


of which the same law of motion takes such different 


* * * * 

Vive muchos anos is the ordinary greeting in 
Spain, and all over the earth it is quite customary 
to wish people a long life. It is presumably not 
a knowledge of life which directs such a wish; it is 
rather knowledge of what man is in his inmost 
nature, the will to live. 

The wish which everyone has that he may be 
remembered after his death, a wish which rises 
to the longing for posthumous glory in the case 
of those whose aims are high, seems to me to 
spring from this clinging to life. When the time 
comes which cuts a man off from every possibility 
of real existence, he strives after a life which is still 
attainable, even though it be a shadowy and ideal 


* * * * 

The deep grief we feel at the loss of a friend 
arises from the feeling that in every individual 
there is something which no words can express, 
something which is peculiarly his own and therefore 

irreparable. Omne individuum ineffabile. 

* * * * 

We may come to look upon the death of our 
enemies and adversaries, even long after it has oc- 
cured, with just as much regret as we feel for that 
of our friends, viz., when we miss them as wit 
nesses of our brilliant success. 

* * * * 

That the sudden announcement of a very happy 
event may easily prove fatal rests upon the fact 
that happiness and misery depend merely on the 
proportion which our claims bear to what we get. 
Accordingly, the good things we possess, or are 
certain of getting, are not felt to be such; because 


all pleasure is in fact of a negative nature and 
effects the relief of pain, while pain or evil is what 
is really positive; it is the object of immediate 
sensation. With the possession or certain expecta 
tion of good things our demands rises, and increases 
our capacity for further possession and larger ex 
pectations. But if we are depressed by continual 
misfortune, and our claims reduced to a minimum, 
the sudden advent of happiness finds no capacity 
for enjoying it. Neutralized by an absence of pre 
existing claims, its effects are apparently positive, 
and so its whole force is brought into play; hence 
it may possibly break our feelings, i. e., be fatal to 
them. And so, as is well known, one must be 
careful in announcing great happiness. First, one 
must get the person to hope for it, then open up 
the prospect of it, then communicate part of it, 
and at last make it fully known. Every portion of 
the good news loses its efficacy, because it is antici 
pated by a demand, and room is left for an in 
crease in it. In view of all this, it may be said 
that our stomach for good fortune is bottomless, 
but the entrance to it is narrow. These remarks 
are not applicable to great misfortunes in the same 
way. They are more seldom fatal, because hope 
always sets itself against them. That an analogous 
part is not played by fear in the case of happiness 
results from the fact that we are instinctively more 
inclined to hope than to fear; just as our eyes 
turn of themselves towards light rather than 


* * * * 

Hope is the result of confusing the desire that 
something should take place with the probability 
that it will. Perhaps no man is free from this folly 
of the heart, which deranges the intellect s correct 
appreciation of probability to such an extent that, 


if the chances are a thousand to one against it, yet 
the event is thought a likely one. Still in spite of 
this, a sudden misfortune is like a death stroke, 
whilst a hope that is always disappointed and still 
never dies, is like death by prolonged torture. 

He who has lost all hope has also lost all fear; 
this is the meaning of the expression "desperate." 
It is natural to a man to believe what he wishes 
to be true, and to believe it because he wishes it. 
If this characteristic of our nature, at once benefi 
cial and assuaging, is rooted out by many hard 
blows of fate, and a man comes, conversely, to a 
condition in which he believes a thing must happen 
because he does not wish it, and what he wishes to 
happen can never be, just because he wishes it, this 

is in reality the state described as "desperation." 
* * * * 

That we are so often deceived in others is not 
because our judgment is at fault, but because in 
general, as Bacon says, intellectus luminis sicci non 
est, sed recipit infusionem a voluntate et affectibus: 
that is to say, trifles unconsciously bias us for or 
against a person from the very beginning. It may 
also be explained by our not abiding by the quali 
ties which we really discover; we go on to conclude 
the presence of others which we think inseparable 
from them, or the absence of those which we con 
sider incompatible. For instance, when we per 
ceive generosity, we infer justice; from piety, we 
infer honesty; from lying, deception; from decep 
tion, stealing, etc.; a procedure which opens the 
door to many false views, partly because human 
nature is so strange, partly because our standpoint 
is so one-sided. It is true, indeed, that character 
always forms a consistent and connected whole ; but 
the roots of all its qualities lie too deep to allow 
of our concluding from particular data in a given 


case whether certain qualities can or cannot exist 


* * * * 

We often happen to say things that may in some 
way or other be prejudicial to us; but we keep 
silent about things that might make us look ridicu 
lous ; because in this case effect follows very quicklj 
on cause. 

* * * * 

The pain of an unfulfilled wish is small in com 
parison with that of repentance ; for the one stands 
in the presence of the vast open future, whilst the 
other has the irrevocable past closed behind it. 

* * * * 

Geduld, patientia, patience, especially the Span 
ish sufrimiento, is strongly connected with the no 
tion of suffering. It is therefore a passive state, 
just as the opposite is an active state of the mind, 
with which, when great, patience is incompatible. 
It is the innate virtue of a phlegmatic, indolent, and 
spiritless people, as also of women. But that it 
is nevertheless so very useful and necessary is a sign 
that the world is very badly constituted. 

* * * * 

Money is human happiness in the abstract: he, 
then, who is no longer capable of enjoying human 
happiness in the concrete, devotes his heart entirely 
to money. 

* * * * 

Obstinacy is the result of the will forcing itself 
!nto the place of the intellect. 

* * * * 

If you want to find out your real opinion of any 
one, observe the impression made upon you by the 
first sight of a letter from him. 


The course of our individual life and the events 
in it, as far as their true meaning and connection 
is concerned, may be compared to a piece of rough 
mosaic. So long as you stand close in front of it, 
you cannot get a right view of the objects pre 
sented, nor perceive their significance or beauty. 
Both come in sight only when you stand a little 
way off. And in the same way you often under 
stand the true connection of important events in 
your life, not while they are going on, nor soon 
after they are past, but only a considerable time 

Is this so, because we require the magnifying 
effect of imagination? or because we can get a gen 
eral view only from a distance? or because the 
school of experience makes our judgment ripe? 
Perhaps all of these together: but it is certain that 
we often view in the right light the actions of others, 
and occasionally even our own, only after the lapse 
of years. And as it is in one s own life, so it is 
in history. 

* * * * 

Happy circumstances in life are like certain 
groups of trees. Seen from a distance they look 
very well: but go up to them and amongst^ them, 
and the beauty vanishes; you don t know where 
it can be; it is only trees you see. And so it is that 
we often envy the lot of others. 

* * * * 

The doctor sees all the weakness of mankind, the 
lawyer all the wickedness, the theologian all the 

* * * * 

A person of phlegmatic disposition who is a 
blockhead, would, with a sanguine nature, be a 

* * * * 


Now and then one learns something, but one 
forgets the whole day long. 

Moreover our memory is like a sieve, the holes 
of which in time get larger and larger: the older 
we get, the quicker anything entrusted to it slips 
from the memory, whereas, what was fixed fast in 
it in early days is there still. The memory of an 
old man gets clearer and clearer, the further it goes 
back, and less clear the nearer it approaches the 
present time; so that his memory, like his eyes, be 
comes short-sighted. 

* * * * 

In the process of learning you may be apprehen 
sive about bewildering and confusing the memory, 
but not about overloading it, in the strict sense of 
the word. The faculty for remembering is not 
diminished in proportion to what one has learnt, 
just as little as the number of moulds in which you 
cast sand, lessens its capacity for being cast in new 
moulds. In this sense the memory is bottomless. 
And yet the greater and more various any one s 
knowledge, the longer he takes to find out anything 
that may suddenly be asked him; because he is like 
a shopkeeper who has to get the article wanted 
from a large and multifarious store; or, more 
strictly speaking, because out of many possible 
trains of thought he has to recall exactly that one 
which, as a result of previous training, leads to 
the matter in question. For the memory is not a 
repository of things you wish to preserve, but a 
mere dexterity of the intellectual powers; hence 
the mind always contains its sum of knowledge only 
potentially, never actually. 

It sometimes happens that my memory will not 
reproduce some word in a foreign language, or a 
name, or some artistic expression, although I know 
it very well. After I have bothered myself in 


vain about it for a longer or a shorter time, I give 
up thinking about it altogether. An hour or two 
afterwards, in rare cases even later still, sometimes 
only after four or five weeks, the word I was trying 
to recall occurs to me while I am thinking of some 
thing else, as suddenly as if some one had whis 
pered it to me. After noticing this phenomenon 
with wonder for very many years, I have come to 
think that the probable explanation of it is as fol 
lows. After the troublesome and unsuccessful 
search, my will retains its craving to know the 
word, and so sets a watch for it in the intellect. 
Later on, in the course and play of thought, some 
word by chance occurs having the same initial let 
ters or some other resemblance to the word which 
is sought; then the sentinel springs forward and 
supplies what is wanting to make up the word, 
seizes it, and suddenly brings it up in triumph, 
without my knowing where and how he got it; so 
it seems as if some one had whispered it to me. It 
is the same process as that adopted by a teacher 
towards a child who cannot repeat a word; the 
teacher just suggests the first letter of the word, 
or even the second too; then the child remembers 
it. In default of this process, you can end by going 

methodically through all the letters of the alphabet. 
* * * * 

In the ordinary man, injustice rouses a passion 
ate desire for vengeance ; and it has often been said 
that vengeance is sweet. How many sacrifices 
have been made just to enjoy the feeling of venge 
ance, without any intention of causing an amount 
of injury equivalent to what one has suffered. The 
bitter death of the centaur Nessus was sweetened 
by the certainty that he had used his last moments 
to work out an extremely clever vengeance. 
Walter Scott expresses the same human inclina- 


tion in language as true as it is strong: "Vengeance 
is the sweetest morsel to the mouth that ever was 
cooked in hell!" I shall now attempt a psycho 
logical explanation of it. 

Suffering which falls to our lot in the course of 
nature, or by chance, or fate, does not, ceteris 
paribus, seem so painful as suffering which is in 
flicted on us by the arbitrary will of another. This 
is because we look upon nature and chance as the 
fundamental masters of the world; we see that the 
blow we received from them might just as well 
have fallen on another. In the case of suffering 
which springs from this source, we bewail the com 
mon lot of humanity rather than our own misfor 
tune. But that it is the arbitrary will of another 
which inflicts the suffering, is a peculiarly bitter 
addition to the pain or injury it causes, viz., the 
consciousness that some one else is superior to us, 
whether by force or cunning, while we lie helpless. 
If amends are possible, amends heal the injury; 
but that bitter addition, "and it was you who did 
that to me," which is often more painful than the 
injury itself, is only to be neutralized by vengeance. 
By inflicting injury on the one who has injured 
us, whether we do it by force or cunning, is to 
show our superiority to him, and to annul the proof 
of his superiority to us. That gives our hearts the 
satisfaction towards which it yearns. So where 
there is a great deal of pride and vanity, there also 
will there be a great desire of vengeance. But as 
the fulfillment of every wish brings with it more 
or less of a sense of disappointment, so it is with 
vengeance. The delight we hope to get from it is 
mostly embittered by compassion. Vengeance 
taken will often tear the heart and torment the 
conscience : the motive to it is no longer active, and 
what remains is the evidence of our malice. 


WHEN the Church says that, in the dogmas of 
religion, reason is totally incompetent and blind, 
and its use to be reprehended, it is in reality attest 
ing the fact that these dogmas are allegorical in 
their nature, and are not to be judged by the 
standard which reason, taking all things sensu 
proprio, can alone apply. Now the absurdities of 
a dogma are just the mark and sign of what is 
allegorical and mythical in it. In the case under 
consideration, however, the absurdities spring from 
the fact that two such heterogeneous doctrines as 
those of the Old and New Testaments had to be 
combined. The great allegory was of gradual 
growth. Suggested by external and adventitious 
circumstances, it was developed by the interpreta 
tion put upon them, an interpretation in quiet touch 
with certain deep-lying truths only half realized. 
The allegory was finally completed by Augustine, 
who penetrated deepest into its meaning, and so 
was able to conceive it as a systematic whole and 
supply its defects. Hence the Augustinian doc 
trine, confirmed by Luther, is the complete form 
of Christianity; and the Protestants of to-day, who 
take Revelation sensu proprio and confine it to a 
single individual, are in error in looking upon the 
first beginnings of Christianity as its most perfect 
expression. But the bad thing about all religions 
is that, instead of being able to confess their alle 
gorical nature, they have to conceal it ; accordingly, 
they parade their doctrine in all seriousness as true 



sensu proprio, and as absurdities form an essential 
part of these doctrines, you have the great mischief 
of a continual fraud. And, what is worse, the day 
arrives when they are no longer true sensu proprio, 
and then there is an end of them; so that, in that 
respect, it would be better to admit their allegorical 
nature at once. ,But the difficulty is to teach the 
multitude that something can be both true and 
untrue at the same time. And as all religions are 
in a greater or less degree of this nature, we must 
recognize the fact that mankind cannot get on 
without a certain amount of absurdity, that ab 
surdity is an element in its existence, and illusion 
indispensable; as indeed other aspects of life testify. 
I have said that the combination of the Old Testa 
ment with the New gives rise to absurdities. 
Among the examples which illustrate what I mean, 
I may cite the Christian doctrine of Predestination 
and Grace, as formulated by Augustine and 
adopted from him by Luther; according to which 
one man is endowed with grace and another is not. 
Grace, then, comes to be a privilege received at 
birth and brought ready into the world; a privilege, 
too, in a matter second to none in importance. 
What is obnoxious and absurd in this doctrine may 
be traced to the idea contained in the Old Testa- 
.nent, that man is the creation of an external will, 
which called him into existence out of nothing. It 
is quite true that genuine moral excellence is really 
innate; but the meaning of the Christian doctrine is 
expressed in another and more rational way by the 
theory of metempsychosis, common to Brahmans 
and Buddhists. According to this theory, the quali 
ties which distinguish one man from another are re 
ceived at birth, are brought, that is to say, from 
another world and a former life; these qualities are 


not an external gift of grace, but are the fruits of 
the acts committed in that other world. But 
Augustine s dogma of Predestination is connected 
with another dogma, namely, that the mass of hu 
manity is corrupt and doomed to eternal damnation, 
that very few will be found righteous and attain 
salvation, and that only in consequence of the gift 
of grace, and because they are predestined to be 
saved; whilst the remainder will be overwhelmed 
by the perdition they have deserved, viz., eternal 
torment in hell. Taken in its ordinary meaning, 
the dogma is revolting, for it comes to this : it con 
demns a man, who may be, perhaps, scarcely twenty 
years of age, to expiate his errors, or even his un 
belief, in everlasting torment; nay, more, it makes 
this almost universal damnation the natural effect 
of original sin, and therefore the necessary conse 
quence of the Fall. This is a result which must 
have been foreseen by him who made mankind, and 
who, in the first place, made them not better than 
they are, and secondly, set a trap for them into 
which he must have known they would fall; for he 
made the whole world, and nothing is hidden from 
him. According to this doctrine, then, God created 
out of nothing a weak race prone to sin, in order 
to give them over to endless torment. And, as a 
last characteristic, we are told that this God, who 
prescribes forbearance and forgiveness of every 
fault, exercises none himself, but does the exact 
opposite ; for a punishment which comes at the end 
of all things, when the world is over and done with, 
cannot have for its object either to improve or 
deter, and is therefore pure vengeance. So that, 
on this view, the whole race is actually destined to 
eternal torture and damnation, and created ex 
pressly for this end, the only exception being those 


few persons who are rescued by election of grace, 
from what motive one does not know. 

Putting these aside, it looks as if the Blessed 
Lord had created the world for the benefit of the 
devil! it would have been so much better not to 
have made it at all. So much, then, for a dogma 
taken sensu proprio. But look at it sensu alle- 
gorico, and the whole matter becomes capable of 
a satisfactory interpretation. What is absurd and 
revolting in this dogma is, in the main, as I said, 
the simple outcome of Jewish theism, with its 
"creation out of nothing," and really foolish and 
paradoxical denial of the doctrine of metempsy 
chosis which is involved in that idea, a doctrine 
which is natural, to a certain extent self-evident, 
and, with the exception of the Jews, accepted by 
nearly the whole human race at all times. To 
remove the enormous evil arising from Augustine s 
dogma, and to modify its revolting nature, Pope 
Gregory L, in the sixth century, very prudently 
matured the doctrine of Purgatory, the essence of 
which already existed in Origen (cf. Bayle s article 
on Origen, note B.). The doctrine was regularly 
incorporated into the faith of the Church, so that 
the original view was much modified, and a certain 
substitute provided for the doctrine of metempsy 
chosis; for both the one and the other admit a 
process of purification. To the same end, the doc 
trine of "the Restoration of all things" (a7ro*aTcurT<W) 
was established, according to which, in the last act 
of the Human Comedy, the sinners one and all 
will be reinstated in iniegrum. It is only Protes 
tants, with their obstinate belief in the Bible, who 
cannot be induced to give up eternal punishment 
in hell. If one were spiteful, one might say, "much 
good may it do them," but it is consoling to think 


that they really do not believe the doctrine; they 
leave it alone, thinking in their hearts, "It can t be 
so bad as all that." 

The rigid and systematic character of his mind 
led Augustine, in his austere dogmatism and his 
resolute definition of doctrines only just indicated 
in the Bible and, as a matter of fact, resting on 
very vague grounds, to give hard outlines to these 
doctrines and to put a harsh construction on Chris 
tianity: the result of which is that his views offend 
us, and just as in his day Pelagianism arose to 
combat them, so now in our day Rationalism does 
the same. Take, for example, the case as he states 
it generally in the De Civitate Dei, Bk. xii. ch. 21. 
It comes to this : God creates a being out of nothing, 
forbids him some things, and enjoins others upon 
him; and because these commands are not obeyed, 
he tortures him to all eternity with every conceiv 
able anguish; and for this purpose, binds soul and 
body inseparably together, so that, instead of the 
torment destroying this being by splitting him up 
into his elements, and so setting him free, he may 
live to eternal pain. This poor creature, formed 
out of nothing! At least, he has a claim on his 
original nothing: he should be assured, as a matter 
of right, of this last retreat, which, in any case, 
cannot be a very evil one: it is what he has in 
herited. I, at any rate, cannot help sympathizing 
with him. If you add to this Augustine s remain 
ing doctrines, that all this does not depend on the 
man s own sins and omissions, but was already 
predestined to happen, one really is at a loss tfhat 
to think. Our highly educated Rationalists say, 
to be sure, "It s all false, it s a mere bugbear; we re 
in a state of constant progress, step by step raising 
ourselves to ever greater perfection." Ah! what a 


pity we didn t begin sooner; we should already have 
been there. 

In the Christian system the devil is a personage 
of the greatest importance. God is described as 
absolutely good, wise and powerful; and unless 
he were counterbalanced by the devil, it would be 
impossible to see where the innumerable and 
measureless evils, which predominate in the world, 
come from, if there were no devil to account for 
them. And since the Rationalists have done away 
with the devil, the damage inflicted on the other 
side has gone on growing, and is becoming more 
and more palpable; as might have been foreseen, 
and was foreseen, by the orthodox. The fact is, 
you cannot take away one pillar from a building 
without endangering the rest of it. And this con 
firms the view, which has been established on other 
grounds, that Jehovah is a transformation of 
Ormuzd, and Satan of the Ahriman who must be 
taken in connection with him. Ormuzd himself is 
a transformation of Indra. 

Christianity has this peculiar disadvantage, that, 
unlike other religions, it is not a pure system of 
doctrine: its chief and essential feature is that it 
is a history, a series of events, a collection of facts, 
a statement of the actions and sufferings of individ 
uals : it is this history which constitutes dogma, and 
belief in it is salvation. Other religions, Buddhism, 
for instance, have, it is true, historical appendages, 
the life, namely, of their founders: this, however, 
is not part and parcel of the dogma but is taken 
along with it. For example, the Lalitavistara may 
be compared with the Gospel so far as it contains 
the life of Sakya-muni, the Buddha of the present 
period of the world s history: but this is something 


which is quite separate and different from the 
dogma, from the system itself: and for this reason; 
the lives of former Buddhas were quite other, and 
those of the future will be quite other, than the 
life of the Buddha of to-day. The dogma is by 
no means one with the career of its founder ; it does 
not rest on individual persons or events ; it is some 
thing universal and equally valid at all times. The 
Lalitavistara is not, then, a gospel in the Christian 
sense of the word; it is not the joyful message of 
an act of redemption; it is the career of him who 
has shown how each one may redeem himself. The 
historical constitution of Christianity makes the 
Chinese laugh at missionaries as story-tellers. 

I may mention here another fundamental error 
of Christianity, an error which cannot be explained 
away, and the mischievous consequences of which 
are obvious every day: I mean the unnatural dis 
tinction Christianity makes between man and the 
animal world to which he really belongs. It sets 
up man as all-important, and looks upon animals 
as merely things. Brahmanism and Buddhism, on 
the other hand, true to the facts, recognize in a 
positive way that man is related generally to the 
whole of nature, and specially and principally to 
animal nature; and in their systems man is always 
represented by the theory of metempsychosis and 
otherwise, as closely connected with the animal 
world. The important part played by animals all 
through Buddhism and Brahmanism, compared 
with the total disregard of them in Judaism and 
Christianity, puts an end to any question as to 
which system is nearer perfection, however much 
we in Europe may have become accustomed to the 
absurdity of the claim. Christianity contains, in 
fact, a great and essential imperfection in limiting 


its precepts to man, and in refusing rights to the 
entire animal world. As religion fails to protect 
animals against the rough, unfeeling and often 
more than bestial multitude, the duty falls to the 
police; and as the police are unequal to the task, 
societies for the protection of animals are now 
formed all over Europe and America. In the 
whole of uncircumcised Asia, such a procedure 
would be the most superfluous thing in the wcttld, 
because animals are there sufficiently protected by 
religion, which even makes them objects of charity. 
How such charitable feelings bear fruit may be 
seen, to take an example, in the great hospital for 
animals at Surat, whither Christians, Moham 
medans and Jews can send their sick beasts, which, 
if cured, are very rightly not restored to their 
owners. In the same way when a Brahman or a 
Buddhist has a slice of good luck, a happy issue 
in any affair, instead of mumbling a Te Deum, he 
goes to the market-place and buys birds and opens 
their cages at the city gate; a thing which may be 
frequently seen in Astrachan, where the adherents 
of every religion meet together: and so on in a 
hundred similar ways. On the other hand, look at 
the revolting ruffianism with which our Christian 
public treats its animals; killing them for no object 
at all, and laughing over it, or mutilating or tortur 
ing them: even its horses, who form its most direct 
means of livelihood, are strained to the utmost in 
their old age, and the last strength worked out of 
their poor bones until they succumb at last under 
the whip. One might say with truth, Mankind are 
the devils of the earth, and the animals the souls 
they torment. But what can you expect from the 
masses, when there are men of education, zoologists 
even, who, instead of admitting what is so familiar 


to them, the essential identity of man and animal, 
are bigoted and stupid enough to offer a zealous 
opposition to their honest and rational colleagues, 
when they class man under the proper head as 
an animal, or demonstrate the resemblance between 
him and the chimpanzee or ourang-outang. It is 
a revolting thing that a writer who is so pious and 
Christian in his sentiments as Jung Stilling should 
use a simile like this, in his Scenen aus dem Geister- 
reich. (Bk. II. sc. i., p. 15.) "Suddenly the 
skeleton shriveled up into an indescribably hideous 
and dwarf -like form, just as when you bring a large 
spider into the focus of a burning glass, and watch 
the purulent blood hiss and bubble in the heat." 
This man of God then was guilty of such infamy! 
or looked on quietly when another was committing 
it! in either case it comes to the same thing here. 
So little harm did he think of it that he tells us 
of it in passing, and without a trace of emotion. 
Such are the effects of the first chapter of Genesis, 
and, in fact, of the whole of the Jewish conception 
of nature. The standard recognized by the Hindus 
and Buddhists is the Mahavakya (the great word) , 
"tat-twam-asi" (this is thyself), which may al 
ways be spoken of every animal, to keep us in mind 
of the identity of his inmost being with ours. Per 
fection of morality, indeed! Nonsense. 

The fundamental characteristics of the Jewish 
religion are realism and optimism, views of the 
world which are closely allied; they form, in fact, 
the conditions of theism. For theism looks upon 
the material world as absolutely real, and regards 
life as a pleasant gift bestowed upon us. On the 
other hand, the fundamental characteristics of the 
Brahman and Buddhist religions are idealism and 


pessimism, which look upon the existence of the 
world as in the nature of a dream, and life as the 
result of our sins. In the doctrines of the Zenda- 
vesta, from which, as is well known, Judaism 
sprang, the pessimistic element is represented by 
Ahriman. In Judaism, Ahriman has as Satan only 
a subordinate position; but, like Ahriman, he is the 
lord of snakes, scorpions, and vermin. But the 
Jewish system forthwith employs Satan to correct 
its fundamental error of optimism, and in the Fall 
introduces the element of pessimism, a doctrine de 
manded by the most obvious facts of the world. 
There is no truer idea in Judaism than this, al 
though it transfers to the course of existence what 
must be represented as its foundation and ante 

The New Testament, on the other hand, must 
be in some way traceable to an Indian source: its 
ethical system, its ascetic view of morality, its pes 
simism, and its Avatar, are all thoroughly Indian. 
It is its morality which places it in a position of 
such emphatic and essential antagonism to the Old 
Testament, so that the story of the Fall is the only 
possible point of connection between the two. For 
when the Indian doctrine was imported into the 
land of promise, two very different things had to 
be combined: on the one hand the consciousness of 
the corruption and misery of the world, its need of 
deliverance and salvation through an Avatar, to 
gether with a morality based on self-denial and 
repentance; on the other hand the Jewish doctrine 
of Monotheism, with its corollary that "all things 
are very good" (irdvra *oAa XMV) . And the task suc 
ceeded as far as it could, as far, that is, as it was 
possible to combine two such heterogeneous and 
antagonistic creeds. 


As ivy clings for the support and stay it wants 
to a rough-hewn post, everywhere conforming to 
its irregularities and showing their outline, but at 
the same time covering them with life and grace, 
and changing the former aspect into one that is 
pleasing to the eye; so the Christian faith, sprung 
from the wisdom of India, overspreads the old 
trunk of rude Judaism, a tree of alien growth; the 
original form must in part remain, but it suffers 
a complete change and becomes full of life and 
truth, so that it appears to be the same tree, but 
is really another. 

Judaism had presented the Creator as separated 
from the world, which he produced out of nothing. 
Christianity identifies this Creator with the Saviour, 
and through him, with humanity : he stands as their 
representative; they are redeemed in him, just as 
they fell in Adam, and have lain ever since in the 
bonds of iniquity, corruption, suffering and death. 
Such is the view taken by Christianity in common 
with Buddhism; the world can no longer be looked 
at in the light of Jewish optimism, which found 
"all things very good" : nay, in the Christian scheme, 
the devil is named as its Prince or Ruler (5 apx^v rSv 
K&ruiovTovTov. John 12, 33) . The world is no longer 
an end, but a means: and the realm of everlasting 
joy lies beyond it and the grave. Resignation in 
this world and direction of all our hopes to a better, 
form the spirit of Christianity. The way to this 
end is opened by the Atonement, that is the Re 
demption from this world and its ways. And in 
the moral system, instead of the law of vengeance, 
there is the command to love your enemy; instead 
of the promise of innumerable posterity, the as 
surance of eternal life; instead of visiting the sins 
of the fathers upon the children to the third and 


fourth generations, the Holy Spirit governs anc 
overshadows all. 

We see, then, that the doctrines of the Old Testa 
ment are rectified and their meaning changed by 
those of the New, so that, in the most important and 
essential matters, an agreement is brought about 
between them and the old religions of India. 
Everything which is true in Christianity may also 
be found in Brahmanism and Buddhism. But in 
Hinduism and Buddhism you will look in vain for 
any parallel to the Jewish doctrines of "a nothing 
quickened into life," or of "a world made in time," 
which cannot be humble enough in its thanks and 
praises to Jehovah for an ephemeral existence full 
of misery, anguish and need. 

Whoever seriously thinks that superhuman be 
ings have ever given our race information as to 
the aim of its existence and that of the world, is 
still in his childhood. There is no other revelation 
than the thoughts of the wise, even though these 
thoughts, liable to error as is the lot of everything 
human, are often clothed in strange allegories and 
myths under the name of religion. So far, then, 
it is a matter of indifference whether a man lives 
and dies in reliance on his own or another s 
thoughts ; for it is never more than human thought, 
human opinion, which he trusts. Still, instead of 
trusting what their own minds tell them, men have 
as a rule a weakness for trusting others who pretend 
to supernatural sources of knowledge. And in 
view of the enormous intellectual inequality be 
tween man and man, it is easy to see that the 
thoughts of one mind might appear as in some sense 
a revelation to another. 
















THE contents of this, as of the other volumes 
in the series, have been drawn from Schopenhauer s 
Par erg a, and amongst the various subjects dealt 
with in that famous collection of essays, Literature 
holds an important place. Nor can Schopenhauer s 
opinions fail to be of special value when he treats 
of literary form and method. For, quite apart 
from his philosophical pretensions, he claims recog 
nition as a great writer; he is, indeed, one of the 
best of the few really excellent prose-writers of 
whom Germany can boast. While he is thus par 
ticularly qualified to speak of Literature as an Art, 
he has also something to say upon those influences 
which, outside of his own merits, contribute so much 
to an author s success, and are so often undervalued 
when he obtains immediate popularity. Schopen 
hauer s own sore experiences in the matter of repu 
tation lend an interest to his remarks upon that 
subject, although it is too much to ask of human 
nature that he should approach it in any% dispas 
sionate spirit. 

In the following pages we have observations 
upon style by one who was a stylist in the best 
sense of the word, not affected, nor yet a phrase 
monger; on thinking for oneself by a philosopher 
who never did anything else; on criticism by a 
writer who suffered much from the inability of 
others to understand him ; on reputation by a candi 
date who, during the greater part of his life, de 
served without obtaining it; and on genius by one 



who was incontestably of the privileged order him 
self. And whatever may be thought of some of 
his opinions on matters of detail on anonymity, 
for instance, or on the question whether good work 
is never done for money there can be no doubt 
that his general view of literature, and the condi 
tions under which it flourishes, is perfectly sound. 

It might be thought, perhaps, that remarks which 
were meant to apply to the German language would 
have but little bearing upon one so different from 
it as English. This would be a just objection if 
Schopenhauer treated literature in a petty spirit, 
and confined himself to pedantic inquiries into 
matters of grammar and etymology, or mere nice 
ties of phrase. But this is not so. He deals with 
his subject broadly, and takes large and general 
views; nor can anyone who knows anything of the 
philosopher suppose this to mean that he is vague 
and feeble. It is true that now and again in the 
course of these essays he makes remarks which are 
obviously meant to apply to the failings of certain 
writers of his own age and country; but in such a 
case I have generally given his sentences a turn, 
which, while keeping them faithful to the spirit of 
the original, secures for them a less restricted 
range, and makes Schopenhauer a critic of similar 
faults in whatever age or country they may appear. 
This has been done in spite of a sharp word on 
page seventeen of this volume, addressed to trans 
lators who dare to revise their author; but the 
change is one with which not even Schopenhauer 
could quarrel. 

It is thus a significant fact a testimony to the 
depth of his insight and, in the main, the justice 
of his opinions that views of literature which ap 
pealed to his own immediate contemporaries, should 


be found to hold good elsewhere and at a distance 
of fifty years. It means that what he had to say 
was worth saying; and since it is adapted thus 
equally to diverse times and audiences, it is prob 
ably of permanent interest. 

The intelligent reader will observe that much of 
the charm of Schopenhauer s writing comes from 
its strongly personal character, and that here he 
has to do, not with a mere maker of books, but 
with a man who thinks for himself and has no 
false scruples in putting his meaning plainly upon 
the page, or in unmasking sham wherever he finds 
it. This is nowhere so true as when he deals with 
literature; and just as in his treatment of life, he 
is no flatterer to men in general, so here he is free 
and outspoken on the peculiar failings of authors. 
At the same time he gives them good advice. He 
is particularly happy in recommending restraint in 
regard to reading the works of others, and the culti 
vation of independent thought; and herein he re 
calls a saying attributed to Hobbes, who was not 
less distinguished as a writer than as a philosopher, 
to the effect that ff if he had read as much as other 
men, he should have been as ignorant as they." 

Schopenhauer also utters a warning, which we 
shall do well to take to heart in these days, against 
mingling the pursuit of literature with vulgar aims. 
If we follow him here, we shall carefully distinguish 
between literature as an object of life and literature 
as a means of living, between the real love of truth 
and beauty, and that detestable false love which 
looks to the price it will fetch in the market. I 
am not referring to those who, while they follow 
a useful and honorable calling in bringing literature 
before the public, are content to be known as men 
of business. If, by the help of some second witch 


of Endor, we could raise the ghost of Schopen 
hauer, it would be interesting to hear his opinion 
of a certain kind of literary enterprise which has 
come into vogue since his day, and now receives 
an amount of attention very much beyond its due. 
We may hazard a guess at the direction his opinion 
would take. He would doubtless show us how this 
enterprise, which is carred on by self-styled literary 
men, ends by making literature into a form of 
merchandise, and treating it as though it were so 
much goods to be bought and sold at a profit, and 
most likely to produce quick returns if the maker s 
name is well known. Nor would it be the ghost 
of the real Schopenhauer unless we heard a vigor 
ous denunciation of men who claim a connection 
with literature by a servile flattery of successful 
living authors the dead cannot be made to pay 
in the hope of appearing to advantage in their 
reflected light and turning that advantage into 

In order to present the contents of this book in 
a convenient form, I have not scrupled to make an 
arrangement with the chapters somewhat different 
from that which exists in the original; so that two 
or more subjects which are there dealt with suc 
cessively in one and the same chapter, here stand 
by themselves. In consequence of this, some of 
the titles of the sections are not to be found in the 
original. I may state, however, that the essays 
on Authorship and Style and the latter part of that 
on Criticism are taken direct from the chapter 
headed Ueber Schriftstellerei und Stil; and that the 
remainder of the essay on Criticism, with that of 
Reputation, is supplied by the remarks Ueber 
Urtheil, Kritik, Beifall und Euhm. The essays on 
The Study of Latin, on Men of Learning, and on 


Some Forms of Literature, are taken chiefly from 
the four sections Ueber Gelehrsamkeit und Ge- 
lehrte, Ueber Sprache und Worte, Ueber Lesen 
und Bilcher: Arihang, and Zur Metaphysik des 
Schonen. The essay on Thinking for Oneself is 
a rendering of certain remarks under the heading 
Selbstdenken. Genius was a favorite subject of 
speculation with Schopenhauer, and he often 
touches upon it in the course of his works; always, 
however, to put forth the same theorjr in regard to 
it as may be found in the concluding section of this 
volume. Though the essay has little or nothing 
to do with literary method, the subject of which it 
treats is the most needful element of success in 
literature; and I have introduced it on that ground. 
It forms part of a chapter in the Parerga entitled 
Den Intellekt ilberhaupt und in jeder Beziehuna 
betreffende Gedanken; Anhang verwandter Stel- 

It has also been part of my duty to invent a 
title for this volume; and I am well aware that 
objection may be made to the one I have chosen, 
on the ground that in common language it is un 
usual to speak of literature as an art, and that to 
do so is unduly to narrow its meaning and to leave 
out of sight its main function as the record of 
thought. But there is no reason why the word 
Literature should not be employed in that double 
sense which is allowed to attach to Painting, Music, 
Sculpture, as signifying either the objective out 
come of a certain mental activity, seeking to ex 
press itself in outward form; or else the particular 
kind of mental activity in question, and the methods 
it follows. And we do, in fact, use it in this latter 
sense, when we say of a writer that he pursues 
literature as a calling. If, then, literature can be 


taken to mean a process as well as a result of mental 
activity, there can be no error in speaking of it 
as Art. I use that term in its broad sense, as 
meaning skill in the display of thought; or, more 
fully, a right use of the rules of applying to the 
practical exhibition of thought, with whatever mate 
rial it may deal. In connection with literature, this 
is a sense and an application of the term which 
have been sufficiently established by the example 
of the great writers of antiquity. 

It may be asked, of course, whether the true 
thinker, who will always form the soul of the true 
author, will not be so much occupied with what he 
has to say, that it will appear to him a trivial thing 
to spend great effort on embellishing the form in 
which he delivers it. Literature, to be worthy of 
the name, must, it is true, deal with noble matter 
the riddle of our existence, the great facts of life, 
the changing passions of the human heart, the dis 
cernment of some deep moral truth. It is easy to 
lay too much stress upon the mere garment of 
thought; to be too precise; to give to the arrange 
ment of words an attention that should rather be 
paid to the promotion of fresh ideas. A writer who 
makes this mistake is like a fop who spends his little 
mind in adorning his person. In short, it may be 
charged against the view of literature which is 
taken in calling it an Art, that, instead of making 
truth and insight the author s aim, it favors sciolism 
and a fantastic and affected style. There is, no 
doubt, some justice in the objection; nor have we 
in our own day, and especially amongst younger 
men, any lack of writers who endeavor to win con 
fidence, not by adding to the stock of ideas in the 
world, but by despising the use of plain language. 
Their faults are not new in the history of literature; 


and it is a pleasing sign of Schopenhauer s insight 
that a merciless exposure of them, as they existed 
half a century ago, is still quite applicable to their 
modern form. 

And since these writers, who may, in the slang 
of the hour, be called "impressionists" in literature, 
follow their own bad taste in the manufacture of 
dainty phrases, devoid of all nerve, and generally 
with some quite commonplace meaning,, it is all the 
more necessary to discriminate carefully between 
artifice and art. 

But although they may learn something from 
Schopenhauer s advice, it is not chiefly to them that 
it is offered. It is to that great mass of writers, 
whose business is to fill the columns of the news 
papers and the pages of the review, and to produce 
the ton of novels that appear every year. Now that 
almost everyone who can hold a pen aspires to 
be called an author, it is well to emphasize the fact 
that literature is an art in some respects more im 
portant than any other. The problem of this art 
is the discovery of those qualities of style and treat 
ment which entitled any work to be called good 

It will be safe to warn the reader at the very 
outset that, if he wishes to avoid being led astray, 
he should in his search for these qualities turn to 
books that have stood the test of time. 

For such an amount of hasty writing is done in 
these days that it is really difficult for anyone who 
reads much of it to avoid contracting its faults, and 
thus gradually coming to terms of dangerous famil 
iarity with bad methods. This advice will be espe 
cially needful if things that have little or no claim 
to be called literature at all the newspapers, the 
monthly magazine, and the last new tale of intrigue 


or adventure fill a large measure, if not the whole, 
of the time given to reading. Nor are those who 
are sincerely anxious to have the best thought in 
the best language quite free from danger if they 
give too much attention to the contemporary 
authors, even though these seem to think and write 
excellently. For one generation alone is incom 
petent to decide upon the merits of any author 
whatever; and as literature, like all art, is a thing 
of human invention, so it can be pronounced good 
only if it obtains lasting admiration, by establishing 
a permanent appeal to mankind s deepest feeling 
for truth and beauty. 

It is in this sense that Schopenhauer is perfectly 
right in holding that neglect of the ancient classics, 
which are the best of all models in the art of writ 
ing, will infallibly lead to a degeneration of litera 

And the method of discovering the best qualities 
of style, and of forming a theory of writing, is not 
to follow some trick or mannerism that happens to 
please for the moment, but to study the way in 
which great authors have done their best work. 

It will be said that Schopenhauer tells us nothing 
we did not know before. Perhaps so ; as he himself 
says, the best things are seldom new. But he puts 
the old truths in a fresh and forcible way; and no 
one who knows anything of good literature will 
deny that these truths are just now of very fit 

It was probably to meet a real want that, a year 
or two ago, an ingenious person succeeded in draw 
ing a great number of English and American 
writers into a confession of their literary creed and 
the art they adopted in authorship; and the inter 
esting volume in which he gave these confessions to 


the world contained some very good advice, al 
though most of it had been said before in different 
forms. More recently a new departure, of very 
doubtful use, has taken place; and two books have 
been issued, which aim, the one at being an author s 
manual, the other at giving hints on essays and 
how to write them. 

A glance at these books will probably show that 
their authors have still something to learn. 

Both of these ventures seem, unhappily, to be 
popular; and, although they may claim a position 
next-door to that of the present volume I beg to 
say that it has no connection with them whatever. 
Schopenhauer does not attempt to teach the art 
of making bricks without straw. 

I wish to take this opportunity of tendering my 
thanks to a large number of reviewers for the very 
gratifying reception given to the earlier volumes 
of this series. And I have great pleasure in ex 
pressing my obligations to my friend Mr. W. G. 
Collingwood, who has looked over most of my 
proofs and often given me excellent advice in my 
effort to turn Schopenhauer into readable English. 

T. B. S. 


THERE are, first of all, two kinds of authors: 
those who write for the subject s sake, and those 
who write for writing s sake. While the one have 
had thoughts or experiences which seem to them 
worth communicating, the others want money; and 
so they write, for money. Their thinking is part 
of the business of writing. They may be recognized 
by the way in which they spin out their thoughts 
to the greatest possible length; then, too, by the 
very nature of their thoughts, which are only half- 
true, perverse, forced, vacillating; again, by the 
aversion they generally show to saying anything 
straight out, so that they may seem other than they 
are. Hence their writing is deficient in clearness 
and definiteness, and it is not long before they 
betray that their only object in writing at all is to 
cover paper. This sometimes happens with the best 
authors ; now and then, for example, with Lessing 
in his Dramaturgic, and even in many of Jean 
Paul s romances. As soon as the reader perceives 
this, let him throw the book away; for time is pre 
cious. The truth is that when an author begins 
to write for the sake of covering paper, he is cheat 
ing the reader; because he writes under the pretext 
that he has something to say. 

Writing for money and reservation of copyright 
are, at bottom, the ruin of literature. No one 
writes anything that is worth writing, unless he 
writes entirely for the sake of his subject. What 
an inestimable boon it would be, if in every branch 



of literature there were only a few books, but those 
excellent! This can never happen, as long as 
money is to be made by writing. It seems as 
though the money lay under a curse; for every 
author degenerates as soon as he begins to put pen 
to paper in any way for the sake of gain. The best 
works of the greatest men all come from the time 
when they had to write for nothing or for very 
little. And here, too, that Spanish proverb holds 
good, which declares that honor and money are 
not to be found in the same purse honora y 
provecho no cab en en un saco.. The reason why 
Literature is in such a bad plight nowadays is 
simply and solely that people write books to make 
money. A man who is in want sits down and writes 
a book, and the public is stupid enough to buy it. 
The secondary effect of this is the ruin of language. 

A great many bad writers make their whole 
living by that foolish mania of the public for read 
ing nothing but what has just been printed, 
journalists, I mean. Truly, a most appropriate 
name. In plain language it is journeymen, day- 

Again, it may be said that there are three kinds 
of authors. First come those who write without 
thinking. They write from a full memory, from 
reminiscences ; it may be, even straight out of other 
people s books. This class is the most numerous. 
Then come those who do their thinking whilst they 
are writing. They think in order to write; and 
there is no lack of them. Last of all come those 
authors who think before they begin to write. They 
are rare. 

Authors of the second class, who put off their 
thinking until they come to write, are like a sports 
man who goes forth at random and is not likely 


to bring very much home. On the other hand, 
when an author of the third or rare class writes, 
it is like a battue. Here the game has been previ 
ously captured and shut up within a very small 
space; from which it is afterwards let out, so many 
at a time, into another space, also confined. .The 
game cannot possibly escape the sportsman ; he has 
nothing to do but aim and fire in other words, 
write down his thoughts. This is a kind of sport 
from which a man has something to show. 

But even though the number of those who really 
think seriously before they begin to write is small, 
extremely few of them think about the subject 
itself: the remainder think only about the books 
that have been written on the subject, and what 
has been said by others. In order to think at all, 
such writers need the more direct and powerful 
stimulus ot having other people s thoughts before 
them. These become their immediate theme; and 
the result is that they are always under their in 
fluence, and so never, in any real sense of the word, 
are original. But the former are roused to thought 
by the subject itself, to which their thinking is thus 
immediately directed. This is the only class that 
produces writers of abiding fame. 

It must, of course, be understood that I am 
speaking here of writers who treat of great sub 
jects; not of writers on the art of making brandy. 

Unless an author takes the material on which he 
writes out of his own head, that is to say, from his 
own observation, he is not worth reading. Book- 
manufacturers, compilers, the common run of his 
tory-writers, and many others of the same class, 
take their material immediately out of books; and 
the material goes straight to their finger-tips with 
out even paying freight or undergoing examination 


as it passes through their heads, to say nothing of 
elaboration or revision. How very learned many 
a man would be if he knew everything that was 
in his own books! The consequence of this is that 
these writers talk in such a loose and vague man 
ner, that the reader puzzles his brain in vain to 
understand what it is of which they are really 
thinking. They are thinking of nothing. It may 
now and then be the case that the book from which 
they copy has been composed exactly in the same 
way: so that writing of this sort is like a plaster 
cast of a cast; and in the end, the bare outline of 
the face, and that, too, hardly recognizable, is all 
that is left to your Antinous. Let compilations be 
read as seldom as possible. It is difficult to avoid 
them altogether; since compilations also include 
those text-books which contain in a small space the 
accumulated knowledge of centuries. 

There is no greater mistake than to suppose 
that the last work is always the more correct; that 
what is written later on is in every case an improve- 
men on what was written before; and that change 
always means progress. Real thinkers, men of 
right judgment, people who are in earnest with 
their subject, these are all exceptions only. 
Vermin is the rule everywhere in the world: it is 
always on the alert, taking the mature opinions of 
the thinkers, and industriously seeking to improve 
upon them (save the mark!) in its own peculiar 

If the reader wishes to study any subject, let him 
beware of rushing to the newest books upon it, 
and confining his attention to them alone, under 
the notion that science is always advancing, and 
that the old books have been drawn upon in the 
writing of the new. They have been drawn upon, 


it is true; but how? The writer of the new book 
often does not understand the old books thoroughly, 
and yet he is unwilling to take their exact words; 
so he bungles them, and says in his own bad way 
that which has been said very much better and more 
clearly by the old writers, who wrote from their own 
lively knowledge of the subject. The new writer 
frequently omits the best things they say, their 
most striking illustrations, their happiest remarks; 
because he does not see their value or feel how 
pregnant they are. The only thing that appeals 
to him is what is shallow and insipid. 

It often happens that an old and excellent book 
is ousted by new and bad ones, which, written for 
money, appear with an air of great pretension and 
much puffing on the part of friends. In science 
a man tries to make his mark by bringing out some 
thing fresh. This often means nothing more than 
that he attacks some received theory which is quite 
correct, in order to make room for his own false no 
tions. Sometimes the effort is successful for a time; 
and then a return is made to the old and true theory. 
These innovators are serious about nothing but 
their own precious self: it is this that they want to 
put forward, and the quick way of doing so, as they 
think, is to start a paradox. Their sterile heads 
take naturally to the path of negation; so they be 
gin to deny truths that have long been admitted 
the vital power, for example, the sympathetic 
nervous system, generatio equivoca, Bichat s dis 
tinction between the working of the passions and 
the working of intelligence; or else they want us 
to return to crass atomism, and the like. Hence 
it frequently happens that the course of science is 

To this class of writers belong those translators 


who not only translate their author but also correct 
and revise him; a proceeding which always seems 
to me impertinent. To such writers I say: Write 
books yourself which are worth translating, and 
leave other people s works as they are! 

The reader should study, if he can, the real 
authors, the men who have founded and discovered 
things; or, at any rate, those who are recognized 
as the great masters in every branch of knowledge. 
Let him buy second-hand books rather than read 
their contents in new ones. To be sure, it is easy 
to add to any new discovery inventis aliquid 
acldere facile est; and, therefore, the student, after 
well mastering the rudiments of his subject, will 
have to make himself acquainted with the more re 
cent additions to the knowledge of it. And, in 
general, the following rule may be laid down here 
as elsewhere: if a thing is new, it is seldom good; 
because if it is good, it is only for a short time new. 

What the address is to a letter, the title should 
be to a book; in other words, its main object should 
be to bring the book to those amongst the public 
who will take an interest in its contents. It should, 
therefore, be expressive; and since by its very 
nature it must be short, it should be concise, laconic, 
pregnant, and if possible give the contents in one 
word. A prolix title is bad ; and so is one that says 
nothing, or is obscure and ambiguous, or even, it 
may be, false and misleading; this last may pos 
sibly involve the book in the same fate as overtakes 
a wrongly addressed letter. The worst titles of 
all are those which have been stolen, those, I mean, 
which have already been borne by other books ; for 
they are in the first place a plagiarism, and secondly 
the most convincing proof of a total lack of origi- 


nality in the author. A man who has not enough 
originality to invent a new title for his book, will 
be still less able to give it new contents. Akin to 
these stolen titles are those which have been imi 
tated, that is to say, stolen to the extent of one 
half; for instance, long after I had produced my 
treatise On Will in Nature, Oersted wrote a book 
entitled On Mind in Nature. 

A book can never be anything more than the 
impress of its author s thoughts; and the value of 
these will lie either in the matter about which he 
has thought, or in the form which his thoughts take, 
in other words, what it is that he has thought about 

The matter of books is most various ; and various 
also are the several excellences attaching to books 
on the score of their matter. By matter I mean 
everything that comes within the domain of actual 
experience; that is to say, the facts of history and 
the facts of nature, taken in and by themselves and 
in their widest sense. Here it is the thing treated 
of, which gives its peculiar character to the book; 
so that a book can be important, whoever it was that 
wrote it. 

But in regard to the form, the peculiar char 
acter of a book depends upon the person who wrote 
it. It may treat of matters which are accessible 
to everyone and well known; but it is the way in 
which they are treated, what it is that is thought 
about them, that gives the book its value; and this 
comes from its author. If, then, from this point 
of view a book is excellent and beyond comparison, 
so is its author. It follows that if a writer is worth 
reading, his merit rises just in proportion as he 
owes little to his matter; therefore, the better 
known and the more hackneyed this is, the greater 


he will be. The three great tragedians of Greece, 
for example, all worked at the same subject-matter. 

So when a book is celebrated, care should be 
taken to note whether it is so on account of its 
matter or its form ; and a distinction should be made 

Books of great importance on account of their 
matter may proceed from very ordinary and shal 
low people, by the fact that they alone have had 
access to this matter; books, for instance, which 
describe journeys in distant lands, rare natural 
phenomena, or experiments; or historical occur 
rences of which the writers were witnesses, or in 
connection with which they have spent much time 
and trouble in the research and special study of 
original documents. 

On the other hand, where the matter is accessible 
to everyone or very well known, everything will 
depend upon the form ; and what it is that is thought 
about the matter will give the book all the value 
it possesses. Here only a really distinguished man 
will be able to produce anything worth reading; 
for the others will think nothing but what anyone 
else can think. They will just produce an impress 
of their own minds; but this is a print of which 
everyone possesses the original. 

However, the public is very much more con 
cerned to have matter than form ; and for this very 
reason it is deficient in any high degree of culture. 
The public shows its preference in this respect in 
the most laughable way when it comes to deal with 
poetry; for there it devotes much trouble to the 
task of tracking out the actual events or personal 
circumstances in the life of the poet which served 
as the occasion of his various works; nay, these 
events and circumstances come in the end to be of 


greater importance than the works themselves; and 
rather than read Goethe himself, people prefer to 
read what has been written about him, and to study 
the legend of Faust more industriously than the 
drama of that name. And when Burger declared 
that "people would write learned disquisitions on 
the question, Who Leonora really was," we find 
this literally fulfilled in Goethe s case; for we now 
possess a great many learned disquisitions on Faust 
and the legend attaching to him. Study of this 
kind is, and remains, devoted to the material of the 
drama alone. To give such preference to the 
matter over the form, is as though a man were to 
take a fine Etruscan vase, not to admire its shape 
or coloring, but to make a chemical analysis of the 
clay and paint of which it is composed. 

The attempt to produce an effect by means of the 
material employed an attempt which panders to 
this evil tendency of the public is most to be con 
demned in branches of literature where any merit 
there may be lies expressly in the form ; I mean, in 
poetical work. For all that, it is not rare to find 
bad dramatists trying to fill the house by means 
of the matter about which they write. For ex 
ample, authors of this kind do not shrink from 
putting on the stage any man who is in any way 
celebrated, no matter whether his life may have 
been entirely devoid of dramatic incident; and 
sometimes, even, they do not wait until the persons 
immediately connected with him are dead. 

The distinction between matter and form to 
which I am here alluding also holds good of con 
versation. The chief qualities which enable a man 
to converse well are intelligence, discernment, wit 
and vivacity : these supply the form of conversation. 
But it is not long*before attention has to be paid 


to the matter of which he speaks; in other words, 
the subjects about which it is possible to con verse 
with him his knowledge. If this is very small, 
his conversation will not be worth anything, unless 
he possesses the above-named formal qualities in 
a very exceptional degree; for he will have nothing 
to talk about but those facts of life and nature 
which everybody knows. It will be just the oppo 
site, however, if a man is deficient in these formal 
qualities, but has an amount of knowledge which 
lends value to what he says. This value will then 
depend entirely upon the matter of his conversa 
tion ; for, as the Spanish proverb has it, mas sdbe el 
necio en su casa, que el sabio en la agena a fool 
knows more of his own business than a wise man 
ioes of others. 


STYLE is the physiognomy of the mind, and a 
safer index to character than the face. To imitate 
another man s style is like wearing a mask, which, 
be it never so fine, is not long in arousing disgust 
and abhorrence, because it is lifeless; so that even 
the ugliest living face is better. Hence those who 
write in Latin and copy the manner of ancient 
authors, may be said to speak through a mask ; the 
reader, it is true, hears what they say, but he can 
not observe their physiognomy too; he cannot see 
their style. With the Latin works of writers who 
think for themselves, the case is different, and their 
style is visible; writers, I mean, who have not con 
descended to any sort of imitation, such as Scotus 
Erigena, Petrarch, Bacon, Descartes, Spinoza, and 
many others. An affectation in style is like making 
grimaces. Further, the language in which a man 
writes is the physiognomy of the nation to which 
he belongs ; and here there are many hard and fast 
differences, beginning from the language of the 
Greeks, down to that of the Caribbean islanders. 

To form a provincial estimate of the value of 
a writer s productions, it is not directly necessary 
to know the subject on which he has thought, or 
what it is that he has said about it; that would 
imply a perusal of all his works. It will be enough, 
in the main, to know how he has thought. This, 
which means the essential temper or general quality 
of his mind, may be precisely determined by his 
style. A man s style shows the formal nature of 



all his thoughts the formal nature which can 
never change, be the subject or the character of 
his thoughts what it may: it is, as it were, the 
dough out of which all the contents of his mind 
are kneaded. When Eulenspiegel was asked how 
long it would take to walk to the next village, he 
gave the seemingly incongruous answer: Walk. 
He wanted to find out by the man s pace the dis 
tance he would cover in a given time. In the same 
way, when I have read a few pages of an author, 
I know fairly well how far he can bring me. 

Every mediocre writer tries to mask his own 
natural style, because in his heart he knows the 
truth of what I am saying. He is thus forced, at 
the outset, to give up any attempt at being frank 
or naive a privilege which is thereby reserved for 
superior minds, conscious of their own worth, and 
therefore sure of themselves. What I mean is that 
these everyday writers are absolutely unable to re 
solve upon writing just as they think; because 
they have a notion that, were they to do so, their 
work might possibly look very childish and simple. 
For all that, it would not be without its value. If 
they would only go honestly to work, and say, quite 
simply, the things they have really thought, and 
just as they have thought them, these writers would 
be readable and, within their own proper sphere, 
even instructive. 

But instead of that, they try to make the reader 
believe that their thoughts have gone much further 
and deeper than is really the case. They say what 
they have to say in long sentences that wind about 
in a forced and unnatural way; they coin new 
words and write prolix periods which go round 
and round the thought and wrap it up in a sort of 
disguise. They tremble between the two separate 


aims of communicating what they want to say and 
of concealing it. Their object is to dress it up so 
that it may look learned or deep, in order to give 
people the impression that there is very much more 
in it than for the moment meets the eye. They 
either jot down their thoughts bit by bit, in short, 
ambiguous, and paradoxical sentences, which ap 
parently mean much more than they say, of this 
kind of writing Schelling s treatises on natural 
philosophy are a splendid instance; or else they 
hold forth with a deluge of words and the most 
intolerable diffusiveness, as though no end of fuss 
were necessary to make the reader understand the 
deep meaning of their sentences, whereas it is some 
quite simple if not actually trivial idea, examples 
of which may be found in plenty in the popular 
works of Fichte, and the philosophical manuals of 
a hundred other miserable dunces not worth men 
tioning; or, again, they try to write in some par 
ticular style which they have been pleased to take 
up and think very grand, a style, for example, par 
excellence profound and scientific, where the reader 
is tormented to death by the narcotic effect of long 
spun periods without a single idea in them, such 
as are furnished in a special measure by those most 
irnpudeir ; of all mortals, the Hegelians 1 ; or it may 
be that it is an intellectual style they have striven 
after, where it seems as though their object were 
to go crazy altogether; and so on in many other 
cases. All these endeavors to put off the nascetur 
ridiculus mus to avoid showing the funny little 
creature that is born after such mighty throes 
often make it difficult to know what it is that they 
really mean. And then, too, they write down 

1 In their Hegel-gazette, commonly known as JaJirbiicher der 
wissenschaftlichen Literatur. 


words, nay, even whole sentences, without attach 
ing any meaning to them themselves, but in the 
hope that some one else will get sense out of them. 

And what is at the bottom of all this? Nothing 
but the untiring effort to sell words for thoughts; 
a mode of merchandise that is always trying to 
make fresh openings for itself, and by means of 
odd expressions, turns of phrase, and combinations 
of every sort, whether new or used in a new sense, to 
produce the appearence of intellect in order to 
make up for the very painfully felt lack of it. 

It is amusing to see how writers with this object 
in view will attempt first one mannerism and then 
another, as though they were putting on the mask 
of intellect! This mask may possibly deceive the 
inexperienced for a while, until it is seen to be a 
dead thing, with no life in it at all ; it is then laughed 
at and exchanged for another. Such an author 
will at one moment write in a dithyrambic vein, 
as though he were tipsy; at another, nay, on the 
very next page, he will be pompous, severe, pro 
foundly learned and prolix, stumbling on in the 
most cumbrous way and chopping up everything 
very small; like the late Christian Wolf, only in a 
modern dress. Longest of all lasts the mask of 
unintelligibility ; but this is only in Germany, 
whither it was introduced by Fichte, perfected by 
Schelling, and carried to its highest pitch in Hegel 
always with the best results. 

And yet nothing is easier than to write so that 
no one can understand; just as contrarily, nothing 
is more difficult than to express deep things in 
such a way that every one must necessarily grasp 
them. All the arts and tricks I have been mention 
ing are rendered superfluous if the author really 
has any brains ; for that allows him to show himself 


as he is, and confirms to all time Horace s maxim 
that good sense is the source and origin of good 

Scribendi recte sapere est et principium et fons. 

But those authors I have named are like certain 
workers in metal, who try a hundred different com 
pounds to take the place of gold the only metal 
which can never have any substitute. Rather than 
do that, there is nothing against which a writer 
should be more upon his guard than the manifest 
endeavor to exhibit more intellect than he really 
has; because this makes the reader suspect that he 
possesses very little; since it is always the case that 
if a man affects anything, whatever it may be, it is 
just there that he is deficient. 

That is why it is praise to an author to say that 
he is naive; it means that he need not shrink from 
showing himself as he is. Generally speaking, to 
be naive is to be attractive; while lack of natural 
ness is everywhere repulsive. As a matter of fact 
we find that every really great writer tries to ex 
press his thoughts as purely, clearly, definitely and 
shortly as possible. Simplicity has always been 
held to be a mark of truth; it is also a mark of 
genius. Style receives its beauty from the thought 
it expresses; but with sham-thinkers the thoughts 
are supposed to be fine because of the style. Style 
is nothing but the mere silhouette of thought; and 
an obscure or bad style means a dull or confused 

The first rule, then, for a good style is that the 
author should have something to say; nay, this is in 
itself almost all that is necessary. Ah, how much 
it means ! The neglect of this rule is a fundamental 
trait in the philosophical writing, and, in fact, in 


all the reflective literature, of my country, more 
especially since Fichte. These writers all let it 
be seen that they want to appear as though they 
had something to say; whereas they have nothing 
to say. Writing of this kind was brought in by 
the pseudo-philosophers at the Universities, and 
now it is current everywhere, even among the first 
literary notabilities of the age. It is the mother 
of that strained and vague style, where there seem 
to be two or even more meanings in the sentence; 
also of that prolix and cumbrous manner of ex 
pression, called le stile empese; again, of that 
mere waste of words which consists in pouring them 
out like a flood; finally, of that trick of concealing 
the direst poverty of thought under a farrago of 
never-ending chatter, which clacks away like a 
windmill and quite stupefies one stuff which a 
man may read for hours together without getting 
hold of a single clearly expressed and definite idea. 1 
However, people are easy-going, and they have 
formed the habit of reading page upon page of all 
sorts of such verbiage, without having any particu 
lar idea of what the author really means. They 
fancy it is all as it should be, and fail to discover 
that he is writing simply for writing s sake. 

On the other hand, a good author, fertile in 
ideas, soon wins his reader s confidence that, when 
he writes, he has really and truly something to say; 
and this gives the intelligent reader patience to 
follow him with attention. Such an author, just 
because he really has something to say, will never 
fail to express himself in the simplest and most 
straightforward manner; because his object is to 

1 Select examples of the art of writing in this style are to 
be found almost passim in the Jahrbiicher published at Halle, 
afterwards called the Deutschen Jahrbucher. 


jwake the very same thought in the reader that he 
has in himself, and no other. So he will be able 
to affirm with Boileau that his thoughts are every 
where open to the light of the day, and that his 
verse always says something, whether it says it 
well or ill: 

Ma pensee au grand jour partout s offre et s expose, 
Et mon vers, bien ou mal, dit tou jours quelque chose: 

while of the writers previously described it may be 
asserted, in the words of the same poet, that they 
talk much and never say anything at all qui 
parlant beaucoup ne disent jamais rien. 

Another characteristic of such writers is that 
they always avoid a positive assertion wherever they 
can possibly do so, in order to leave a loophole for 
escape in case of need. Hence they never fail to 
choose the more abstract way of expressing them 
selves; whereas intelligent people use the more 
concrete; because the latter brings things more 
within the range of actual demonstration, which is 
the source of all evidence. 

There are many examples proving this prefer 
ence for abstract expression; and a particularly 
ridiculous one is afforded by the use of the verb 
to condition in the sense of to cause or to produce. 
People say to condition something instead of to 
cause it, because being abstract and indefinite it 
says less; it affirms that A cannot happen without 
B, instead of that A is caused by B. A back door 
is always left open; and this suits people whose 
secret knowledge of their own incapacity inspires 
them with a perpetual terror of all positive asser 
tion; while with other people it is merely the effect 
of that tendency by which everything that is stupid 
in literature or bad in life is immediately imitated 


a fact proved in either case by the rapid way in 
which it spreads. The Englishman uses his own 
judgment in what he writes as well as in what he 
does; but there is no nation of which this eulogy 
is less true than of the Germans. The consequence 
of this state of things is that the word cause has of 
late almost disappeared from the language of litera 
ture, and people talk only of condition. The fact 
is worth mentioning because it is so characteristic 
ally ridiculous. 

The very fact that these commonplace authors 
are never more than half -conscious when they 
write, would be enough to account for their dullness 
of mind and the tedious things they produce. I 
say they are only half-conscious, because they 
really do not themselves understand the meaning 
of the words they use : they take words ready-made 
and commit them to memory. Hence when they 
write, it is not so much words as whole phrases that 
they put together phrases banales. This is the 
explanation of that palpable lack of clearly-ex 
pressed thought in what they say. The fact is that 
they do not possess the die to give this stamp to 
their writing; clear thought of their own is just 
what they have not got. And what do we find in 
its place? a vague, enigmatical intermixture of 
words, current phrases, hackneyed terms, and 
fashionable expressions. The result is that the 
foggy stuff they write is like a page printed with 
very old type. 

On the other hand, an intelligent author really 
speaks to us when he writes, and that is why he 
is able to rouse our interest and commune with us. 
It is the intelligent author alone who puts indi 
vidual words together with a full consciousness of 
their meaning, and chooses them with deliberate 


design. Consequently, his discourse stands to that 
of the writer described above, much as a picture 
that has been really painted, to one that has been 
produced by the use of a stencil. In the one case, 
every word, every touch of the brush, has a special 
purpose; in the other, all is done mechanically. 
The same distinction may be observed in music. 
For just as Lichtenberg says that Garrick s soul 
seemed to be in every muscle in his body, so it is 
the omnipresence of intellect that always and every 
where characterizes the work of genius. 

I have alluded to the tediousness which marks the 
works of these writers ; and in this connection it is 
to be observed, generally, that tediousness is of 
two kinds; objective and subjective. A work is 
objectively tedious when it contains the defect in 
question; that is to say, when its author has no 
perfectly clear thought or knowledge to communi 
cate. For if a man has any clear thought or knowl 
edge in him, his aim will be to communicate it, 
and he will direct his energies to this end; so that 
the ideas he furnishes are everywhere clearly ex 
pressed. The result is that he is neither diffuse, nor 
unmeaning, nor confused, and consequently not 
tedious. In such a case, even though the author is 
at bottom in error, the error is at any rate clearly 
worked out and well thought over, so that it is at 
least formally correct; and thus some value always 
attaches to the work. But for the same reason a 
work that is objectively tedious is at all times de 
void of any value whatever. 

The other kind of tediousness is only relative: a 
reader may find a work dull because he has no 
interest in the question treated of in it, and this 
means that his intellect is restricted. The best work 
may, therefore, be tedious subjectively, tedious, I 


mean, to this or that particular person; just as, 
contrarily, the worst work may be subjectively en 
grossing to this or that particular person who has 
an interest in the question treated of, or in the 
writer of the book. 

It would generally serve writers in good stead if 
they would see that, whilst a man should, if pos 
sible, think like a great genius, he should talk the 
same language as everyone else. ^uthQra,shoiild 
use common words to say uncommon things. But 
they do just the opposite. We find them trying 
to wrap up trivial ideas in grand words, and to 
clothe their very ordinary thoughts in the most ex 
traordinary phrases, the most far-fetched, un 
natural, and out-of-the-way expressions. Theiy 
sentences perpetually stalk about on stilts. They 
take so much pleasure in bombast, and write in 
such a high-flown, bloated, affected, hyperbolical 
and acrobatic style that their prototype is Ancient 
Pistol, whom his friend Falstaff once impatiently 
told to say what he had to say like a man of this 
world. 1 

There is no expression in any other language 
exactly answering to the French stile empese; but 
the thing itself exists all the more often. When 
associated with affectation, it is in literature what 
assumption of dignity, grand airs and primeness 
are in society; and equally intolerable. Dullness 
of mind is fond of donning this dress; just as art 
ordinary life it is stupid people who like being 
demure and formal. 

An author who writes in the prim style resembles 
a man who dresses himself up in order to avoid 
being confounded or put on the same level with 
a mob a risk never run by the gentleman, even 

1 King Henry IV., Part II. Act v. Sc. 3. 


in his worst clothes. The plebeian may be known 
by a certain showiness of attire and a wish to have 
everything spick and span; and in the same way, 
the commonplace person is betrayed by his style. 

Nevertheless, an author follows a false aim if 
he tries to write exactly as he speaks. There is no 
style of writing but should have a certain trace of 
kinship with the epigraphic or monumental style, 
which is, indeed, the ancestor of all styles. For an 
author to write as he speaks is just as reprehensible 
as the opposite fault, to speak as he writes; for 
this gives a pedantic effect to what he says, and at 
the same time makes him hardly intelligible. 

An obscure and vague manner of expression is 
always and everywhere a very bad sign. In ninety- 
nine cases out of a hundred it comes from vague 
ness of thought; and this again almost always 
means that there is something radically wrong and 
incongruous about the thought itself in a word, 
that it is incorrect. When a right thought springs 
up in the mind, it strives after expression and is 
not long in reaching it; for clear thought easily 
finds words to fit it. If a man is capable of think 
ing anything at all, he is also always able to ex 
press it in clear, intelligible, and unambiguous 
terms. Those writers who construct difficult, ob 
scure, involved, and equivocal sentences, most cer 
tainly do not know aright what it is that they want 
to say: they have only a dull consciousness of it, 
which is still in the stage of struggle to shape itself 
as thought. Often, indeed, their desire is to con 
ceal from themselves and others that they really 
have nothing at all to say. They wish to appear 
to know what they do not know, to think what they 
do not think, to say what they do not say. If a 
man has some real communication to make, which 


will he choose an indistinct or a clear way of 
expressing himself? Even Quintilian remarks that 
things which are said by a highly educated man 
are often easier to understand and much clearer; 
and that the less educated a man is, the more ob 
scurely he will write plerumque accidit ut faciliora 
sint ad intellig endum et lucidiora multo que a 
doctissimo quoque dicuntur .... Erit ergo etiam 
obscurior quo quisque deterior. 

An author should avoid enigmatical phrases; he 
should know whether he wants to say a thing or 
does not want to say it. It is this indecision of 
style that makes so many writers insipid. The 
only case that offers an exception to this rule arises 
when it is necessary to make a remark that is in 
some way improper. 

As exaggeration generally produces an effect 
the opposite of that aimed at; so words, it is true, 
serve to make thought intelligible but only up 
to a certain point. If words are heaped up beyond 
it, the thought becomes more and more obscure 
again. To find where the point lies is the problem 
of style, and the business of the critical faculty; 
for a word too much always defeats its purpose. 
This is what Voltaire means when he says that the 
adjective is the enemy of the substantive. But, as 
we have seen, many people try to conceal their 
poverty of thought under a flood of verbiage. 

Accordingly let all redundancy be avoided, all 
stringing together of remarks which have no mean 
ing and are not worth perusal. A writer must 
make a sparing use of the reader s time, patience 
and attention; so as to lead him to believe that his 
author writes what is worth careful study, and will 
reward the time spent upon it. It is always better 
to omit something good than to add that which is 


not worth saying at all. This is the right applica 
tion of Hesiod s maxim, irXiov fyu< Wr? 1 the half 
is more than the whole. Le secret pour etre en- 
nuyeux, c est de tout dire. Therefore, if possible, 
the quintessence only! mere leading thoughts! noth 
ing that the reader would think for himself. To 
use many words to communicate few thoughts is 
everywhere the unmistakable sign of mediocrity. 
To gather much thought into few words stamps 
the man of genius. 

Truth is most beautiful undraped; and the im 
pression it makes is deep in proportion as its ex 
pression has been simple. This is so, partly because 
it then takes unobstructed possession of the hearer s 
whole soul, and leaves him no by-thought to dis 
tract him; partly, also, because he feels that here 
he is not being corrupted or cheated by the arts of 
rhetoric, but that all the effect of what is said comes 
from the thing itself. For instance, what declama 
tion on the vanity of human existence could ever 
be more telling than the words of Job? Man that 
is born of a woman hath but a short time to live and 
is full of misery. He cometh up, and is cut down, 
like a flower; he fleeth as it were a shadow, and 
never continueth in one stay. 

For the same reason Goethe s naive poetry is in 
comparably greater than Schiller s rhetoric. It is 
this, again, that makes many popular songs so af 
fecting. As in architecture an excess of decoration 
is to be avoided, so in the art of literature a writer 
must guard against all rhetorical finery, all useless 
amplification, and all superfluity of expression in 
general; in a word, he must strive after chastity 
of style. Every word that can be spared is hurtful 

1 Works and Days, 40. 


if it remains. The law of simplicity and naivete 
holds good of all fine art; for it is quite possible 
to be at once simple and sublime. 

True brevity , of expression consists in every 
where saying only what is worth saying, and in 
avoiding tedious detail about things which everyone 
can supply for himself. This involves correct dis 
crimination between what it necessary and what is 
superfluous. A writer should never be brief at the 
expense of being clear, to say nothing of being 
grammatical. It shows lamentable want of judg 
ment to weaken the expression of a thought, or to 
stunt the meaning of a period for the sake of using 
a few words less. But this is the precise endeavor 
of that false brevity nowadays so much in vogue, 
which proceeds by leaving out useful words and 
even by sacrificing grammar and logic. It is not 
only that such writers spare a word by making a 
single verb or adjective do duty for several differ 
ent periods, so that the reader, as it were, has to 
grope his way through them in the dark; they also 
practice, in many other respects, an unseemingly 
economy of speech, in the effort to effect what they 
foolishly take to be brevity of expression and con 
ciseness of style. By omitting something that 
might have thrown a light over the whole sentence, 
they turn it into a conundrum, which the reader 
tries to solve by going over it again and again. 1 

1 Translator s Note. In the original, Schopenhauer here enters 
upon a lengthy examination of certain common errors in the 
writing and speaking of German. His remarks are addressed 
to his own countrymen, and would lose all point, even if they 
were intelligible, in an English translation. But for those who 
practice their German by conversing or corresponding with 
Germans, let me recommend what he there says as a useful cor 
rective to a slipshod style, such as can easily be contracted if 
it, is assumed that the natives of a country always know their 
own language perfectly. 


It is wealth and weight of thought, and nothing 
else, that gives brevity to style, and makes it con 
cise and pregnant. If a writer s ideas are im 
portant, luminous, and generally worth communi 
cating, they will necessarily furnish matter and sub- 
stance enough to fill out the periods which give 
them expression, and make these in all their parts 
both grammatically and verbally complete; and so 
much will this be the case that no one will ever find 
them hollow, empty or feeble. The diction will 
everywhere be brief and pregnant, and allow the 
thought to find intelligible and easy expression, and 
even unfold and move about with grace. 

Therefore instead of contracting his words and 
forms of speech, let a writer enlarge his thoughts. 
If a man has been thinned by illness and finds his 
clothes too big, it is not by cutting them down, 
but by recovering his usual bodily condition, that 
he ought to make them fit him again. 

Let me here mention an error of style, very 
prevalent nowadays, and, in the degraded state of 
literature and the neglect of ancient languages, 
always on the increase; I mean subjectivity. A 
writer commits this error when he thinks it enough 
if he himself knows what he means and wants to 
say, and takes no thought for the reader, who is 
left to get at the bottom of it as best he can. This 
is as though the author were holding a monologue; 
whereas, it ought to be a dialogue; and a dialogue, 
too, in which he must express himself all the more 
clearly inasmuch as he cannot hear the questions 
of his .interlocutor. 

Style should for this very reason never be sub 
jective, but objective; and it will not be objective 
unless the words are so set down that they directly 


force the reader to think precisely the same thing as 
the author thought when he wrote them. Nor will 
this result be obtained unless the author has always 
been careful to remember that thought so far follows 
the law of gravity that it travels from head to paper 
much more easily than from paper to head; so that 
he must assist the latter passage by every means 
in his power. If he does this, a writer s words will 
have a purely objective effect, like that of a fin 
ished picture in oils; whilst the subjective style is 
not much more certain in its working than spots 
on the wall, which look like figures only to one 
whose phantasy has been accidentally aroused by 
them; other people see nothing but spots and blurs. 
The difference in question applies to literary 
method as a whole; but it is often established also 
in particular instances. For example, in a recently 
published work I found the following sentence: 
/ have not written in order to increase the number 
of existing books. This means just the opposite 
of what the writer wanted to say, and is nonsense 
as well. 

He who writes carelessly confesses thereby at the 
very outset that he does not attach much impor 
tance to his own thoughts. For it is only where 
a man is convinced of the truth and importance of 
his thoughts, that he feels the enthusiasm necessary 
for an untiring and assiduous effort to find the 
clearest, finest, and strongest expression for them, 
just as for sacred relics or priceless works of art 
there are provided silvern or golden receptacles. 
It was this feeling that led ancient authors, whose 
thoughts, expressed in their own words, have lived 
thousands of years, and therefore bear the honored 
title of classics, always to write with care. Plato, 


indeed, is said to have written the introduction to 
his Republic seven times over in different ways. 1 

As neglect of dress betrays want of respect for 
the company a man meets, so a hasty, careless, bad 
style shows an outrageous lack of regard for the 
reader, who then rightly punishes it by refusing to 
read the book. It is especially amusing to see re- 
"viewers criticising the works of others in their own 
most careless style the style of a hireling. It is 
as though a judge were to come into court in dress 
ing-gown and slippers ! If I see a man badly and \ 
dirtily dressed, I feel some hesitation, at first, in \ 
entering into conversation with him: and when, on | 
taking up a book, I am struck at once by the negli 
gence of its style, I put it away. 

Good writing should be governed by the rule that 
a man can think only one thing clearly at a time; 
and, therefore, that he should not be expected to 
think two or even more things in one and the same 
moment. But this is what is done when a writer 
breaks up his principal sentence into little pieces, 
for the purpose of pushing into the gaps thus made 
two or three other thoughts by way of parenthesis ; 
thereby unnecessarily and wantonly confusing the 
reader. And here it is again my own countrymen 
who are chiefly in fault. That German lends itself 
to this way of writing, makes the thing possible, 
but does not justify it. No prose reads more easily 
or pleasantly than French, because, as a rule, it is 
free from the error in question. The Frenchman 
strings his thoughts together, as far as he can, in 
the most logical and natural order, and so lays them 
before his reader one after the other for convenient 

1 Translator s Note. It is a fact worth mentioning that the 
first twelve words of the Republic are placed in the exact order 
which would be natural in English. 


deliberation, so that every one of them may receive 
undivided attention. The German, on the other 
hand, weaves them together into a sentence which 
he twists and crosses, and crosses and twists again; 
because he wants to say six things all at once, in 
stead of advancing them one by one. His aim 
should be to attract and hold the reader s atten 
tion; but, above and beyond neglect of this aim, he 
demands from the reader that he shall set the above 
mentioned rule at defiance, and think three or four 
different thoughts at one and the same time; or 
since that is impossible, that his thoughts shall suc 
ceed each other as quickly as the vibrations of a cord. 
In this way an author lays the foundation of his 
stile empese, which is then carried to perfection by 
the use of high-flown, pompous expressions to com 
municate the simplest things, and other artifices of 
the same kind. 

In those long sentences rich in involved paren 
thesis, like a box of boxes one within another, and 
padded out like roast geese stuffed with apples, it 
is really the memory that is chiefly taxed; while it 
is the understanding and the judgment which 
should be called into play, instead of having their 
activity thereby actually hindered and weakened. 1 
This kind of sentence furnishes the reader with 
mere half-phrases, which he is then called upon to 
collect carefully and store up in his memory, as 
though they were the pieces of a torn letter, after 
wards to be completed and made sense of by the 
other halves to which they respectively belong. He 
is expected to go on reading for a little without 

1 Translator s Note. This sentence in the original is obviously 
meant to illustrate the fault of which it speaks. It does so 
by the use of a construction very common in German, but hap 
pily unknown in English; where, however, the fault itself exists 
none the less, though in different form. 


exercising any thought, nay, exerting only his 
memory, in the hope that, when he comes to the 
end of the sentence, he may see its meaning and so 
receive something to think about; and he is thus 
given a great deal to learn by heart before obtain 
ing anything to understand. This is manifestly 
wrong and an abuse of the reader s patience. 

The ordinary writer has an unmistakable prefer 
ence for this style, because it causes the reader to 
spend time and trouble in understanding that which 
he would have understood in a moment without it; 
and this makes it look as though the writer had 
more depth and intelligence than the reader. This 
is, indeed, one of those artifices referred to above, 
by means of which mediocre authors unconsciously, 
and as it were by instinct, strive to conceal their 
poverty of thought and give an appearance of the 
opposite. Their ingenuity in this respect is really 

It is manifestly against all sound reason to put 
one thought obliquely on top of another, as though 
both together formed a wooden cross. But this is 
what is done where a writer interrupts what he has 
begun to say, for the purpose of inserting some 
quite alien matter; thus depositing with the reader 
a meaningless half -sentence, and bidding him keep 
it until the completion comes. It is much as though 
a man were to treat his guests by handing them an 
empty plate, in the hope of something appearing 
upon it. And commas used for a similar purpose 
belong to the same family as notes at the foot of 
the page and parenthesis in the middle of the text; 
nay, all three differ only in degree. If Demos 
thenes and Cicero occasionally inserted words by 
ways of parenthesis, they would have done better 
to have refrained. 


But this style of writing becomes the height of 
absurdity when the parenthesis are not even fitted 
into the frame of the sentence, but wedged in so 
as directly to shatter it. If, for instance, it is an 
impertinent thing to interrupt another person when 
he is speaking, it is no less impertinent to interrupt 
oneself. But all bad, careless, and hasty authors, 
who scribble with the bread actually before their 
eyes, use this style of writing six times on a page, 
and rejoice in it. It consists in it is advisable to 
give rule and example together, wherever it is pos 
sible breaking up one phrase in order to glue in 
another. Nor is it merely out of laziness that they 
write thus. r .7hey do it out of stupidity; they 
think there is ^ charming Ugerete about it; that it 
gives life to what they say. No doubt there are a 
few rare cases where such a form of sentence may 
be pardonable. 

Few write in the way in which an architect builds ; 
who, before he sets to work, sketches out his plan, 
and thinks it over down to its smallest details. 
Nay, most people write only as though they were 
playing dominoes; and, as in this game, the pieces 
are arranged half by design, half by chance, so it 
is with the sequence and connection of their sen 
tences. They only have an idea of what the general 
shape of their work will be, and of the aim they set 
before themselves. Many are ignorant even of 
this, and write as the coral-insects build; period 
joins to period, and the Lord only knows what the 
author means. 

Life now-a-days goes at a gallop; and the way 
in which this affects literature is to make it ex 
tremely superficial and slovenly. 


THE abolition of Latin as the universal language 
of learned men, together with the rise of that 
provincialism which attaches to national literatures, 
has been a real misfortune for the cause of knowl 
edge in Europe. For it was chiefly through the 
medium of the Latin language that a learned pub 
lic existed in Europe at all a public to which 
every book as it came out directly appealed. The 
number of minds in the whole of Europe that are 
capable of thinking and judging is small, as it is; 
but when the audience is broken up and severed by 
differences of language, the good these minds can 
do is very much weakened. This is a great disad 
vantage; but a second and worse one will follow, 
namely, that the ancient languages will cease to 
be taught at all. The neglect of them is rapidly 
gaining ground both in France and Germany. 

If it should really come to this, then farewell, 
humanity! farewell, noble taste and high thinking! 
The age of barbarism will return, in spite of rail 
ways, telegraphs and balloons. We shall thus in 
the end lose one more advantage possessed by all 
our ancestors. For Latin is not only a key to the 
knowledge of Roman antiquity; its also directly 
opens up to us the Middle Age in every country in 
Europe, and modern times as well, down to about 
the year 1750. Erigena, for example, in the ninth 
century, John of Salisbury in the twelfth, Raimond 
Lully in the thirteenth, with a hundred others, 
speak straight to us in the very language that they 
naturally adopted in thinking of learned matters. 



They thus come quite close to us even at this dis 
tance of time: we are in direct contact with them, 
and really come to know them. How would it have 
been if every one of them spoke in the language 
that was peculiar to his time and country? We 
should not understand even the half of what they 
said. A real intellectual contact with them would 
be impossible. We should see them like shadows 
on the farthest horizon, or, may be, through the 
translator s telescope. 

It was with an eye to the advantage of writing 
in Latin that Bacon, as he himself expressly states, 
proceeded to translate his Essays into that lan 
guage, under the title Sermones fidcles; at which 
work Hobbes assisted him. 1 

Here let me observe, by way of parenthesis, that 
when patriotism tries to urge its claims in the do 
main of knowledge, it commits an offence which 
should not be tolerated. For in those purely 
human questions which interest all men alike, where 
truth, insight, beauty, should be of sole account, 
what can be more impertinent than to let preference 
for the nation to which a man s precious self hap 
pens to belong, affect the balance of judgment, 
and thus supply a reason for doing violence to 
truth and being unjust to the great minds of a 
foreign country in order to make much of the 
smaller minds of one s own! Still, there are 
writers in every nation in Europe, who afford ex 
amples of this vulgar feeling. It is this which led 
Yriarte to caricature them in the thirty-third of 
his charming Literary Fables. 2 

1 Cf. Thomae Hobbes vita: Carolopoli apud Eleutherium Angli- 
cum, 1681, p. 22. 

2 Translator s Note.Tomas de Yriarte (1750-91), a Spanish 
poet, and keeper of archives in the War Office at Madrid. His 


In learing a language, the chief difficulty con 
sists in making acquaintance with every idea which 
it expresses, even though it should use words for 
which there is no exact equivalent in the mother 
tongue; and this often happens. In learning a 
new language a man has, as it were, to mark out 
in his mind the boundaries of quite new spheres of 
ideas, with the result that spheres of ideas arise 
where none were before. Thus he not only learns 
words, he gains ideas too. 

This is nowhere so much the case as in learning 
ancient languages, for the differences they present 
in their mode of expression as compared with 
modern languages is greater than can be found 
amongst modern languages as compared with one 
another. This is shown by the fact that in translat 
ing into Latin, recourse must be had to quite other 
turns of phrase than are used in the original. The 
thought that is to be translated has to be melted 
down and recast; in other words, it must be ana 
lyzed and then recomposed. It is just this process 
which makes the study of the ancient languages 
contribute so much to the education of the mind. 

two best known works are a didactic poem, entitled La Musica, 
and the Fables here quoted, which satirize the peculiar foibles 
of literary men. They have been translated into many languages ; 
into English by Rockliffe (3rd edtion, 1866). The fable in 
question describes how, at a picnic of the animals, a discussion 
arose as to which of them carried off the palm for superiority 
of talent. The praises of the ant, the dog, the bee, and the 
parrot were sung in turn; but at last the ostrich stood up and 
declared for the dromedary. Whereupon the dromedary stood 
tip and declared for the ostrich. No one could discover the 
reason for this mutual compliment. Was it because both were 
such uncouth beasts, or had such long necks, or were neither 
of them particularly clever or beautiful? or was it because each 
had a hump? No! said the fox, you are all wrong. Don t you 
<$ee they are both foreigners? Cannot the same be said of many 
men of learning? 


It follows from this that a man s thought varies 
according to the language in which he speaks. His 
ideas undergo a fresh modification, a different shad 
ing, as it were, in the study of every new language. 
Hence an acquaintance with many languages is 
not only of much indirect advantage, but it is also 
a direct means of mental culture, in that it corrects 
and matures ideas by giving prominence to their 
many-sided nature and their different varieties of 
meaning, as also that it increases dexterity of 
thought; for in the process of learning many lan 
guages, ideas become more and more independent 
of words. The ancient languages effect this to a 
greater degree than the modern, in virtue of the 
difference to which I have alluded. 

From what I have said, it is obvious that to 
imitate the style of the ancients in their own lan 
guage, which is so very much superior to ours in 
point of grammatical perfection, is the best way 
of preparing for a skillful and finished expression 
of thought in the mother-tongue. Nay, if a man 
wants to be a great writer, he must not omit to 
do this: just as, in the case of sculpture or paint 
ing, the student must educate himself by copying 
the great masterpieces of the past, before proceed 
ing to original work. It is only by learning to 
write Latin that a man comes to treat diction as 
an art. The material in this art is language, which 
must therefore be handled with the greatest care 
and delicacy. 

The result of such study is that a writer will 
pay keen attention to the meaning and value of 
words, their order and connection, their gram 
matical forms. He will learn how to weigh them 
with precision, and so become an expert in the use 
of that precious instrument which is meant not 


only to express valuable thought, but to preserve 
it as well. Further, he will learn to feel respect 
for the language in which he writes and thus be 
saved from any attempt to remodel it by arbitrary 
and capricious treatment. Without this schooling, 
a man s writing may easily degenerate into mere 

To be entirely ignorant of the Latin language 
is like being in a fine country on a misty day. The 
horizon is extremely limited. Nothing can be seen 
clearly except that which is quite close ; a few steps 
beyond, everything is buried in obscurity. But 
the Latinist has a wide view, embracing modern 
times, the Middle Age and Antiquity; and his 
mental horizon is still further enlarged if he studies 
Greek or even Sanscrit. 

If a man knows no Latin, he belongs to the 
vulgar, even though he be a great virtuoso on the 
electrical machine and have the base of hydrofluoric 
acid in his crucible. 

There is no better recreation for the mind than 
the study of the ancient classics. Take any one 
of them into your hand, be it only for half an hour, 
and you will feel yourself refreshed, relieved, puri 
fied, ennobled, strengthened; just as though you 
had quenched your thirst at some pure spring. Is 
this the effect of the old language and its perfect 
expression, or is it the greatness of the minds whose 
works remain unharmed and unweakened by the 
lapse of a thousand years? Perhaps both together. 
But this I know. If the threatened calamity should 
ever come, and the ancient languages cease to be 
taught, a new literature will arise, of such bar 
barous, shallow and worthless stuff as never was 
seen before. 


WHEN one sees the number and variety of in 
stitutions which exist for the purposes of education, 
and the vast throng of scholars and masters, one 
might fancy the human race to be very much con 
cerned about truth and wisdom. But here, too, ap 
pearances are deceptive. The masters teach in 
order to gain money, and strive, not after wisdom, 
but the outward show and reputation of it; and the 
scholars learn, not for the sake of knowledge and 
insight, but to be able to chatter and give them 
selves airs. Every thirty years a new race comes 
into the world a youngster that knows nothing 
about anything, and after summarily devouring in 
all haste the results of human knowledge as they 
have been accumulated for thousands of years, 
aspires to be thought cleverer than the whole of 
the past. For this purpose he goes to the Uni 
versity, and takes to reading books new books, as 
being of his own age and standing. Everything 
he reads must be briefly put, must be new! he is 
new himself. Then he falls to and criticises. And 
here I am not taking the slightest account of 
studies pursued for the sole object of making a 

Students, and learned persons of all sorts and 
every age, aim as a rule at acquiring information 
rather than insight. They pique themselves upon 
knowing about everything stones, plants, battles, 
experiments, and all the books in existence. It 
never occurs to them that information is only a 



means of insight, and in itself of little or no value; 
that it is his way of thinking that makes a man a 
philosopher. When I hear of these portents of 
learning and their imposing erudition, I sometimes 
say to myself: Ah, how little they must have had 
to think about, to have been able to read so much! 
And when I actually find it reported of the elder 
Pliny that he was continually reading or being read 
to, at table, on a journey, or in his bath, the ques 
tion forces itself upon my mind, whether the man 
was so very lacking in thought of his own that he 
had to have alien thought incessantly instilled into 
him; as though he were a consumptive patient tak 
ing jellies to keep himself alive. And neither his 
undiscerning credulity nor his inexpressibly re 
pulsive and barely intelligible style which seems 
like of a man taking notes, and very economical of 
paper is of a kind to give me a high opinion of 
his power of independent thought. 

We have seen that much reading and learning 
is prejudicial to thinking for oneself; and, in the 
same way, through much writing and teaching, a 
man loses the habit of being quite clear, and there 
fore thorough, in regard to the things he knows 
and understands; simply because he has left him 
self no time to acquire clearness or thoroughness. 
And so, when clear knowledge fails him in his ut 
terances, he is forced to fill out the gaps with words 
and phrases. It is this, and not the dryness of the 
subject-matter, that makes most books such tedious 
reading. There is a saying that a good cook can 
make a palatable dish even out of an old shoe; and 
a good writer can make the dryest things inter 

With by far the largest number of learned men, 
knowledge is a means, not an end. That is why 


they will never achieve any great work; because, 
to do that, he who pursues knowledge must pursue 
it as an end, and treat everything else, even ex 
istence itself, as only a means. For everything 
which a man fails to pursue for its own sake is but 
half-pursued; and true excellence, no matter in 
what sphere, can be attained only where the work 
has been produced for its own sake alone, and not 
as a means to further ends. 

And so, too, no one will ever succeed in doing 
anything really great and original in the way of 
thought, who does not seek to acquire knowledge 
for himself, and, making this the immediate object 
of his studies, decline to trouble himself about the 
knowledge of others. But the average man of 
learning studies for the purpose of being able to 
teach and write. His head is like a stomach and 
intestines which let the food pass through them un 
digested. That is just why his teaching and writ 
ing is of so little use. For it is not upon undigested 
refuse that people can be nourished, but solely upon 
the milk which secretes from the very blood itself. 

The wig is the appropriate symbol of the man 
of learning, pure and simple. It adorns the head 
with a copious quantity of false hair, in lack of 
one s own: just as erudition means endowing it 
with a great mass of alien thought. This, to be 
sure, does not clothe the head so well and naturally, 
nor is it so generally useful, nor so suited for all 
purposes, nor so firmly rooted; nor when alien 
thought is used up, can it be immediately replaced 
by more from the same source, as is the case with 
that which springs from soil of one s own. So 
we find Sterne, in his Tristram Shandy, boldly as 
serting that an ounce of a man s own wit is worth 
a ton of other people s. 


And in fact the most profound erudition is no 
more akin to genius than a collection of dried 
plants in like Nature, with its constant flow of 
new life, ever fresh, ever young, ever changing. 
There are no two things more opposed than the 
childish naivete of an ancient author and the learn 
ing of his commentator. 

Dilettanti, dilettanti! This is the slighting way 
in which those who pursue any branch of art or 
learning for the love and enjoyment of the thing, 
per il loro diletto, are spoken of by those who 
have taken it up for the sake of gain, attracted 
solely by the prospect of money. This contempt 
of theirs comes from the base belief that no man 
will seriously devote himself to a subject, unless 
he is spurred on to it by want, hunger, or else 
some form of greed. The public is of the same 
way of thinking; and hence its general respect for 
professionals and its distrust of dilettanti. But 
the truth is that the dilettante treats his subject as 
an end, whereas the professional, pure and simple, 
treats it merely as a means. He alone will be really 
in earnest about a matter, who has a direct in 
terest therein, takes to it because he likes it, and 
pursues it con amore. It is these, and not hirelings, 
that have always done the greatest work. 

In the republic of letters it is as in other re 
publics; favor is shown to the plain man he who 
goes his way in silence and does not set up to be 
cleverer than others. But the abnormal man is 
looked upon as threatening danger; people band 
together against him, and have, oh! such a majority 
on their side. 

The condition of this republic is much like that 
of a small State in America, where every man is 
intent only upon his own advantage, and seeks 


reputation and power for himself, quite heedless 
of the general weal, which then goes to ruin. So 
it is in the republic of letters; it is himself, and 
himself alone, that a man puts forward, because 
he wants to gain fame. The only thing in which 
all agree is in trying to keep down a really eminent 
man, if he should chance to show himself, as one 
who would be a common peril. From this it is easy 
to see how it fares with knowledge as a whole. 

Between professors and independent men of 
learning there has always been from of old a cer 
tain antagonism, which may perhaps be likened to 
that existing been dogs and wolves. In virtue of 
their position, professors enjoy great facilities for 
becoming known to their contemporaries. Con- 
trarily, independent men of learning enjoy, by their 
position, great facilities for becoming known to 
posterity; to which it is necessary that, amongst 
other and much rarer gifts, a man should have a 
certain leisure and freedom. As mankind takes a 
long time in finding out on whom to bestow its at 
tention, they may both work together side by side. 

He who holds a professorship may be said to 
receive his food in the stall ; and this is the best way 
with ruminant animals. But he who finds his food 
for himself at the hands of Nature is better off in 
the open field. 

Of human knowledge as a wliole and in every 
branch of it, by far the largest part exists nowhere 
but on paper, I mean, in books, that paper 
memory of mankind. Only a small part of it is 
at any given period really active in the minds of 
particular persons. This is due, in the main, to 
the brevity and uncertainty of life ; but it also comes 
from the fact that men are lazy and bent on 
pleasure. Every generation attains, on its hasty 


passage through existence, just so much of human 
knowledge as it needs, and then soon disappears. 
Most men of learning are very superficial. Then 
follows a new generation, full of hope, but ig 
norant, and with everything to learn from the be 
ginning. It seizes, in its turn, just so much as it 
can grasp or find useful on its brief journey and 
then too goes its way. How badly it would fai^ 
with human knowledge if it were not for the art 
of writing and printing! This it is that makes 
libraries the only sure and lasting memory of the 
human race, for its individual members have all of 
them but a very limited and imperfect one. Hence 
most men of learning as are loth to have their 
knowledge examined as merchants to lay bare their 

Human knowledge extends on all sides farther 
than the eye can reach; and of that which would 
be generally worth knowing, no one man can pos 
sess even the thousandth part. 

All branches of learning have thus been so much 
enlarged that he who would "do something" has to 
pursue no more than one subject and disregard all 
others. In his own subject he will then, it is true, 
be superior to the vulgar; but in all else he will 
belong to it. If we add to this that neglect of the 
ancient languages, which is now-a-days on the in 
crease and is doing away with all general education 
in the humanities for a mere smattering of Latin 
and Greek is of no use we shall come to have men 
of learning who outside their own subject display 
an ignorance truly bovine. 

An exclusive specialist of this kind stands on a 
par with a workman in a factory, whose whole life 
is spent in making one particular kind of screw, 
or catch, or handle, for some particular instrument 


or machine, in which, indeed, he attains incredible 
dexterity. The specialist may also be likened to a 
man who lives in his own house and never leaves it. 
There he is perfectly familiar with everything, 
every little step, corner, or board; much as Quasi 
modo in Victor Hugo s Notre Dame knows the 
cathedral; but outside it, all is strange and un 

For true culture in the humanities it is absolutely 
necessary that a man should be many-sided and 
take large views; and for a man of learning in the 
higher sense of the word, an extensive acquaintance 
with history is needful. He, however, who wishes 
to be a complete philosopher, must gather into his 
head the remotest ends of human knowledge: for 
where else could they ever come together? 

It is precisely minds of the first order that will 
never be specialists. For their very nature is to 
make the whole of existence their problem ; and this 
is a subject upon which they will every one of 
them in some form provide mankind with a new 
revelation. For he alone can deserve the name of 
genius who takes the All, the Essential, the Uni 
versal, for the theme of his achievements; not he 
who spends his life in explaining some special rela 
tion of things one to another. 


A LIBRARY may be very large; but if it is in 
disorder, it is not so useful as one that is small 
but well arranged. In the same way, a man may 
have a great mass of knowledge, but if he has not 
worked it up by thinking it over for himself, it has 
much less value than a far smaller amount which 
he has thoroughly pondered. For it is only when 
a man looks at his knowledge from all sides, and 
combines the things he knows by comparing truth 
with truth, that he obtains a complete hold over it 
and gets it into his power. A man cannot turn 
over anything in his mind unless he knows it; he 
should, therefore, learn something; but it is only 
when he has turned it over that he can be said to 
know it. 

Reading and learning are things that anyone can 
do of his own free will; but not so thinking. 
Thinking must be kindled, like a fire by a draught ; 
it must be sustained by some interest in the matter 
in hand. This interest may be of purely objective 
kind, or merely subjective. The latter comes into 
play only in things that concern us personally. Ob 
jective interest is confined to heads that think by 
nature; to whom thinking is as natural as breath 
ing; and they are very rare. This is why most 
men of learning show so little of it. 

It is incredible what a different effect is pro 
duced upon the mind by thinking for oneself, as 
compared with reading. It carries on and intensi 
fies that original difference in the nature of two 



minds which leads the one to think and the other to 
read. What I mean is that reading forces alien 
thoughts upon the mind thoughts which are as 
foreign to the drift and temper in which it may be 
for the moment, as the seal is to the wax on which 
it stamps its imprint. The mind is thus entirely 
under compulsion from without; it is driven to 
think this or that, though for the moment it may 
not have the slightest impulse or inclination to do 

But when a man thinks for himself, he follows the 
impulse of his own mind, which is determined for 
him at the time, either by his environment or some 
particular recollection. The visible world of a 
man s surroundings does not, as reading does, im 
press a single definite thought upon his mind, but 
merely gives the matter and occasion which lead 
him to think what is appropriate to his nature and 
present temper. So it is, that much reading de 
prives the mind of all elasticity; it is like keeping 
a spring continually under pressure. The safest 
way of having no thoughts of one s own is to take 
up a book every moment one has nothing else to 
do. It is this practice which explains why erudi 
tion makes most men more stupid and silly than 
they are by nature, and prevents their writings 
obtaining any measure of success. They remain, 
in Pope s words: 

For ever reading, never to be read! 1 

Men of learning are those who have done their 
reading in the pages of a book. Thinkers and men 
of genius are those who have gone straight to the 
book of Nature ; it is they who have enlightened the 
world and carried humanity further on its way. 

1 Dunciad, iii, 194. 


If a man s thoughts are to have truth and life in 
them, they must, after all, be his own fundamental 
thoughts; for these are the only ones that he can 
fully and wholly understand. To read another s 
thoughts is like taking the leavings of a meal to 
which we have not been invited, or putting on the 
clothes which some unknown visitor has laid aside. 
The thought we read is related to the thought which 
springs up in ourselves, as the fossil-impress of 
some prehistoric plant to a plant as it buds forth in 

Reading is nothing more than a substitute for 
thought of one s own. It means putting the mind 
into leading-strings. The multitude of books 
serves only to show how many false paths there 
are, and how widely astray a man may wander if 
he follows any of them. But he who is guided by 
his genius, he who thinks for himself, who thinks 
spontaneously and exactly, possesses the only com 
pass by which he can steer aright. A man 
should read only when his own thoughts stagnate 
at their source, which will happen often enough 
even with the best of minds. On the other hand, 
to take up a book for the purpose of scaring away 
one s own original thoughts is sin against the Holy 
Spirit. It is like running away from Nature to 
look at a museum of dried plants or gaze at a land 
scape in copperplate. 

A man may have discovered some portion of 
truth or wisdom, after spending a great deal of 
time and trouble in thinking it over for himself 
and adding thought to thought; and it may some 
times happen that he could have found it all ready 
to hand in a book and spared himself the trouble. 
But even so, it is a hundred times more valuable 
if he has acquired it by thinking it out for himself 


For it is only when we gain our knowledge in this 
way that it enters as an integral part, a living mem 
ber, into the whole system of our thought; that it 
stands in complete and firm relation with what we 
know; that it is understood with all that underlies 
it and follows from it; that it wears the color, the 
precise shade, the distinguishing mark, of our own 
way of thinking; that it comes exactly at the right 
time, just as we felt the necessity for it; thac it 
stands fast and cannot be forgotten. This is the 
perfect application, nay, the interpretation, of 
Goethe s advice to earn our inheritance for our 
selves so that we may really possess it: 

Was due ererbt von deinen Vdtern hast, 
Erwirb es, urn es zu besitzen. 1 

The man who thinks for himself, forms his own 
opinions and learns the authorities for them only 
later on, when they serve but to strengthen his 
belief in them and in himself. But the book- 
philosopher starts from the authorities. He reads 
other people s books, collects their opinions, and so 
forms a whole for himself, which resembles an au 
tomaton made up of anything but flesh and blood. 
Contrarily, he who thinks for himself creates a 
work like a living man as made by Nature. For 
the work comes into being as a man does ; the think 
ing mind is impregnated from without, and it then 
forms and bears its child. 

Truth that has been merely learned is like an 
artificial limb, a false tooth, a waxen nose ; at best, 
like a nose made out of another s flesh; it adheres 
to us only because it is put on. But truth acquired 
by thinking of our own is like a natural limb; it 
alone really belongs to us. This is the fundamental 

1 Faust, I. 329. 


difference between the thinker and the mere man 
of learning. The intellectual attainments of a man 
who thinks for himself resemble a fine painting, 
where the light and shade are correct, the tone sus 
tained, the color perfectly harmonized; it is true 
to life. On the other hand, the intellectual attain 
ments of the mere man of learning are like a large 
palette, full of all sorts of colors, which at most 
are systematically arranged, but devoid of har 
mony, connection and meaning. 

Reading is thinking with some one else s head 
instead of one s own. To think with one s own 
head is always to aim at developing a coherent 
whole a system, even though it be not a strictly 
complete one; and nothing hinders this so much 
as too strong a current of others thoughts, such 
as comes of continual reading. These thoughts, 
springing every one of them from different minds, 
belonging to different systems, and tinged with 
different colors, never of themselves flow together 
into an intellectual whole; they never form a unity 
of knowledge, or insight, or conviction ; but, rather, 
fill the head with a Babylonian confusion of 
tongues. The mind that is over-loaded with alien 
thought is thus deprived of all clear insight, and 
is well-nigh disorganized. This is a state of things 
observable in many men of learning; and it makes 
them inferior in sound sense, correct judgment and 
practical tact, to many illiterate persons, who, 
after obtaining a little knowledge from without, by 
means of experience, intercourse with others, and 
a small amount of reading, have always subor 
dinated it to, and embodied it with, their own 

The really scientific thinker does the same thing 
as these illiterate persons, but on a larger scale. 


Although he has need of much knowledge, and so 
must read a great deal, his mind is nevertheless 
strong enough to master it all, to assimilate and 
incorporate it with the system of his thoughts, and 
so to make it fit in with the organic unity of his 
insight, which, though vast, is always growing. 
And in the process, his own thought, like the bass 
in an organ, always dominates everything and is 
never drowned by other tones, as happens with 
minds which are full of mere antiquarian lore; 
where shreds of music, as it were, in every key, 
mingle confusedly, and no fundamental note is 
heard at all. 

Those who have spent their lives in reading, and 
taken their wisdom from books, are like people who 
have obtained precise information about a country 
from the descriptions of many travellers. Such 
people can tell a great deal about it ; but, after all, 
they have no connected, clear, and profound knowl 
edge of its real condition. But those who have 
spent their lives in thinking, resemble the travellers 
themselves; they alone really know what they are 
talking about; they are acquainted with the actual 
state of affairs, and are quite at home in the subject. 

The thinker stands in the same relation to the 
ordinary book-philosopher as an eye-witness does 
to the historian; he speaks from direct knowledge 
of his own. That is why all those who think for 
themselves come, at bottom, to much the same con 
clusion. The differences they present are due to 
their different points of view; and when these do 
not affect the matter, they all speak alike. ^ They 
merely express the result of their own objective 
perception of things. There are many passages in 
my works which I have given to the public only 
after some hesitation, because of their paradoxical 


nature ; and afterwards I have experienced a pleas 
ant surprise in finding the same opinion recorded in 
the works of great men who lived long ago. 

The book-philosopher merely reports what one 
person has said and another meant, or the objec 
tions raised by a third, and so on. He compares 
different opinions, ponders, criticises, and tries to 
get at the truth of the matter ; herein on a par with 
the critical historian. For instance, he will set out 
to inquire whether Leibnitz was not for some time 
a follower of Spinoza, and questions of a like 
nature. The curious student of such matters may 
find conspicuous examples of what I mean in 
Herbart s Analytical Elucidation of Morality and 
Natural Right, and in the same author s Letters 
on Freedom. Surprise may be felt that a man of 
the kind should put himself to so much trouble; 
for, on the face of it, if he would only examine the 
matter for himself, he would speedily attain his 
object by the exercise of a little thought. But 
there is a small difficulty in the way. It does not 
depend upon his own will. A man can always 
sit down and read, but not think. It is with 
thoughts as with men; they cannot always be sum 
moned at pleasure ; we must wait for them to come. 
Thought about a subject must appear of itself, 
by a happy and harmonious combination of external 
stimulus with mental temper and attention; and 
it is just that which never seems to come to these 

This truth may be illustrated by what happens 
in the case of matters affecting our own personal 
interest. When it is necessary to come to some 
resolution in a matter of that kind, we cannot wei] 
sit down at any given moment and think over the 
merits of the case and make up our mind; for, if 


we try to do so, we often find ourselves unable, at 
that particular moment, to keep our mind fixed 
upon the subject; it wanders off to other things. 
Aversion to the matter in question is sometimes to 
blame for this. In such a case we should not use 
force, but wait for the proper frame of mind to 
come of itself. It often comes unexpectedly and 
returns again and again ; and the variety of temper 
in which we approach it at different moments puts 
the matter always in a fresh light. It is this long 
process which is understood by the term a ripe 
resolution. For the work of coming to a resolution 
must be distributed; and in the process much that 
is overlooked at one moment occurs to us at an 
other; and the repugnance vanishes when we find, 
as we usually do, on a closer inspection, that things 
are not so bad as they seemed. 

This rule applies to the life of the intellect as 
well as to matters of practice. A man must wait 
for the right moment. Not even the greatest mind 
is capable of thinking for itself at all times. Hence 
a great mind does well to spend its leisure in read 
ing, which, as I have said, is a substitute for 
thought; it brings stuff to the mind by letting 
another person do the thinking; although that is 
always done in a manner not our own. Therefore, 
a man should not read too much, in order that 
his mind may not become accustomed, to the sub 
stitute and thereby forget the reality; that it may 
not form the habit of walking in well-worn paths; 
nor by following an alien course of thought grow 
a stranger to its own. Least of all should a man 
quite withdraw his gaze from the real world for 
the mere sake of reading; as the impulse and the 
temper which prompt to thought of one s own come 
far of tener from the world of reality than from the 


world of books. The real life that a man sees be 
fore him is the natural subject of thought; and in its 
strength as the primary element of existence, it 
can more easily than anything else rouse and in 
fluence the thinking mind. 

After these considerations, it will not be matter 
for surprise that a man who thinks for himself 
can easily be distinguished from the book-philoso 
pher by the very way in which he talks, by his 
marked earnestness, and the originality, directness, 
and personal conviction that stamp all his thoughts 
and expressions. The book-philosopher, on the 
other hand, lets it be seen that everything he has 
is second-hand; that his ideas are like the number 
and trash of an old furniture-shop, collected to 
gether from all quarters. Mentally, he is dull and 
pointless a copy of a copy. His literary style 
is made up of conventional, nay, vulgar phrases, 
and terms that happen to be current; in this re 
spect much like a small State where all the money 
that circulates is foreign, because it has no coinage 
of its own. 

Mere experience can as little as reading supply 
the place of thought. It stands to thinking in the 
same relation in which eating stands to digestion 
and assimilation. When experience boasts that to 
its discoveries alone is due the advancement of the 
human race, it is as though the mouth were to 
claim the whole credit of maintaining the body in 

The works of all truly capable minds are dis 
tinguished by a character of decision and definite- 
ness, which means they are clear and free from ob 
scurity. A truly capable mind always knows 
definitely and clearly what is is that it wants to 
express, whether its medium is prose, verse, or 


omsic. Other minds are not decisive and not 
definite; and by this they may be known for what 
they are. 

The characteristic sign of a mind of the highest 
order is that it always judges at first hand. Every 
thing it advances is the result of thinking for itself; 
and this is everywhere evident by the way in which 
it gives its thoughts utterance. Such a mind is 
like a Prince. In the realm of intellect its author 
ity is imperial, whereas the authority of minds of 
a lower order is delegated only; as may be seen 
in their style, which has no independent stamp of 
its own. 

Every one who really thinks f or himself is so far 
like a monarch. His position is undelegated and 
supreme. His judgments, like royal decrees, 
spring from his own sovereign power and proceed 
directly from himself. He acknowledges authority 
as little as a monarch admits a command; he sub 
scribes to nothing but what he has himself author 
ized, The multitude of common minds, laboring 
under all sorts of current opinions, authorities, 
prejudices, is like the people, which silently obeys 
the law and accepts orders from above. 

Those who are so zealous and eager to settle 
debated questions by citing authorities, are really 
glad when they are able to put the understanding 
and the insight of others into the field in place of 
their own, which are wanting. Their number i? 
legion. For, as Seneca says, there is no man but 
prefers belief to the exercise of judgment unus* 
quisque mavult credere quam judicare. In their 
controversies such people make a promiscuous use 
of the weapon of authority, and strike out at one 
another with it. If any one chances to become in 
volved in such a contest, he will do well not to try 


reason and argument as a mode of defence; for 
against a weapon of that kind these people are 
like Siegfrieds, with a skin of horn, and dipped in 
the flood of incapacity for thinking and judging. 
They will meet his attack by bringing up their 
authorities as a way of abashing him argumentum 
ad verecundiam, and then cry out that they have 
won the battle. 

In the real world, be it never so fair, favorable 
and pleasant, we always live subject to the law of 
gravity which we have to be constantly overcom 
ing. But in the world of intellect we are disem 
bodied spirits, held in bondage to no such law, and 
free from penury and distress. Thus it is that there 
exists no happiness on earth like that which, at the 
auspicious moment, a fine and fruitful mind finds 
in itself. 

The presence of a thought is like the presence 
of a woman we love. We fancy we shall never 
forget the thought nor become indifferent to the 
dear one. But out of sight, out of mind! The 
finest thought runs the risk of being irrevocably 
forgotten if we do not write it down, and the 
darling of being deserted if we do not marry her. 

There are plenty of thoughts which are valuable 
to the man who thinks them; but only few of 
them which have enough strength to produce re- 
percussive or reflect action I mean, to win the 
reader s sympathy after they have been put on 

But still it must not be forgotten that a true 
value attaches only to what a man has thought in 
the first instance for his own case. Thinkers may 
be classed according as they think chiefly for their 
own case or for that of others. The former are the 
genuine independent thinkers; they really think 


and are really independent; they are the true 
philosophers; they alone are in earnest. The 
pleasure and the happiness of their existence con 
sists in thinking. The others are the sophists; they 
want to seem that which they are not, and seek 
their happiness in what they hope to get from the 
world. They are in earnest about nothing else. 
To which of these two classes a man belongs may 
be seen by his whole style and manner. Lichten- 
berg is an example for the former class; Herder, 
there can be no doubt, belongs to the second. 

When one considers how vast and how close to 
us is the problem of existence this equivocal, tor 
tured, fleeting, dream-like existence of ours so 
vast and so close that a man no sooner discovers 
it than it overshadows and obscures all other prob 
lems and aims; and when one sees how all men, 
with few and rare exceptions, have no clear con 
sciousness of the problem, nay, seem to be quite 
unaware of its presence, but busy themselves with 
everything rather than with this, and live on, tak 
ing no thought but for the passing day and the 
hardly longer span of their own personal future, 
either expressly discarding the problem or else 
over-ready to come to terms with it by adopting 
some system of popular metaphysics and letting 
it satisfy them; when, I say, one takes all this to 
heart, one may come to the opinion that man may 
be said to be a thinking being only in a very remote 
sense, and henceforth feel no special surprise at 
any trait of human thoughtlessness or folly; but 
know, rather, that the normal man s intellectual 
range of vision does indeed extend beyond that of 
the brute, whose whole existence is, as it were, a 
continual present, with no consciousness of the past 


or the future, but not such an immeasurable dis 
tance as is generally supposed. 

This is, in fact, corroborated by the way in which 
most men converse ; where their thoughts are found 
to be chopped up fine, like chaff, so that for them 
to spin out a discourse of any length is impossible. 

If this world were peopled by really thinking 
beings, it could not be that noise of every kind 
would be allowed such generous limits, as is the 
case with the most horrible and at the same time 
aimless form of it. 1 If Nature had meant man to 
think, she would not have given him ears; or, at 
any rate, she would have furnished them with air 
tight flaps, such as are the enviable possession of 
the bat. But, in truth, man is a poor animal like 
the rest, and his powers are meant only to main 
tain him in the struggle for existence; so he must 
need keep his ears always open, to announce of 
themselves, by night as by day, the approach of 
the pursuer. 

1 Translator s Note. Schopenhauer refers to the cracking of 
whips. See the Essay On Noise in Studies in Pessimism. 


IN the DRAMA, which is the most perfect reflec 
tion of human existence, there are three stages in 
the presentation of the subject, with a correspond 
ing variety in the design and scope of the piece. 

At the first, which is also the most common, 
stage, the drama is never anything more than 
merely interesting. The persons gain our attention 
by following their own aims, which resemble ours; 
the action advances by means of intrigue and the 
play of character and incident; while wit and rail 
lery season the whole. 

At the second stage, the drama becomes senti 
mental. Sympathy is roused with the hero and, 
indirectly, with ourselves. The action takes a 
pathetic turn; but the end is peaceful and satis 

The climax is reached with the third stage, which 
is the most difficult. There the drama aims at 
being tragic. We are brought face to face with 
great suffering and the storm and stress of exist 
ence; and the outcome of it is to show the vanity 
of all human effort. Deeply moved, we are either 
directly prompted to disengage our will from the 
struggle of life, or else a chord is struck in us which 
echoes a similar feeling. 

The beginning, it is said, is always difficult. In 
the drama it is just the contrary; for these the 
difficulty always lies in the end. This is proved 
by countless plays which promise very well for the 
first act or two, and then become muddled, stick or 
falter notoriously so in the fourth act and finally 
conclude in a way that is either forced or unsat- 



isfactory or else long foreseen by every one. Some 
times, too, the end is positively revolting, as in 
Lessing s Emilia Galotti, which sends the spectators 
home in a temper. 

This difficulty in regard to the end of a play 
arises partly because it is everywhere easier to get 
things into a tangle than to get them out again; 
partly also because at the beginning we give the 
author carte blanche to do as he likes, but, at the 
end, make certain definite demands upon him. 
Thus we ask for a conclusion that shall be either 
quite happy or else quite tragic; whereas human 
affairs do not easily take so decided a turn; and 
then we expect that it shall be natural, fit and 
proper, unlabored, and at the same time foreseen 
by no one. 

These remarks are also applicable to an epic and 
to a novel; but the more compact nature of the 
drama makes the difficulty plainer by increasing it. 

E nihilo nihil fit. That nothing can come from 
nothing is a maxim true in fine art as elsewhere. 
In composing an historical picture, a good artist 
will use living men as a model, and take the ground 
work of the faces from life; and then proceed to 
idealize them in point of beauty or expression. A 
similar method, I fancy, is adopted by good novel 
ists. In drawing a character they take a general 
outline of it from some real person of their ac 
quaintance, and then idealize and complete it to 
suit their purpose. 

A NOVEL will be of a high and noble order, the 
more it represents of inner, and the less it repre 
sents of outer, life; and the ratio between the two 
will supply a means of judging any novel, of what 
ever kind, from Tristram Shandy down to the crud 
est and most sensational tale of knight or robber. 
Tristram Shandy has, indeed, as good as no action 


at all; and there is not much in La Nouvelle 
Heloise and Wilhelm Meister. Even Don Quixote 
has relatively little; and what there is, very unim 
portant, and introduced merely for the sake of 
fun. And these four are the best of all existing 

Consider, further, the wonderful romances of 
Jean Paul, and how much inner life is shown on 
the narrowest basis of actual event. Even in 
Walter Scott s novels there is a great preponder 
ance of inner over outer life, and incident is never 
brought in except for the purpose of giving play 
to thought and emotion; whereas, in bad novels, 
incident is there on its own account. Skill consists 
in setting the inner life in motion with the smallest 
possible array of circumstance; for it is this inner 
life that really excites our interest. 

The business of the novelist is not to relate great 
events, but to make small ones interesting. 

HISTORY, which I like to think of as the contrary 
of poetry (la-ropov^vov TreTroL^vov) , is for time what 
geography is for space; and it is no more to be 
called a science, in any strict sense of the word, 
than is geography, because it does not deal with 
universal truths, but only with particular details. 
History has always been the favorite study of those 
who wish to learn something, without having to 
face the effort demanded by any branch of real 
knowledge, which taxes the intelligence. In our 
time history is a favorite pursuit; as witness the 
numerous books upon the subject which appear 
every year. 

If the reader cannot help thinking, with me, that 
history is merely the constant recurrence of similar 
things, just as in a kaleidoscope the same bits of 
glass are represented, but in different combinations, 
he will not be able to share all this lively interest; 


nor, however, will he censure it. But there is a 
ridiculous and absurd claim, made by many people, 
to regard history as a part of philosophy, nay, as 
philosophy itself ; they imagine that history can take 
its place. 

The preference shown for history by the greater 
public in all ages may be illustrated by the kind 
of conversation which is so much in vogue every 
where in society. It generally consists in one per 
son relating something and then another person 
relating something else; so that in this way every 
one is sure of receiving attention. Both here and 
in the case of history it is plain that the mind is 
occupied with particular details. But as in science, 
so also in every worthy conversation, the mind rises 
to the consideration of some general truth. 

This objection does not, however, deprive history 
of its value. Human life is short and fleeting, 
and many millions of individuals share in it, who 
are swallowed by that monster of oblivion which 
is waiting for them with ever-open jaws. It is thus 
a very thankworthy task to try to rescue something 
the memory of interesting and important events, 
or the leading features and personages of some 
epoch from the general shipwreck of the world. 

From another point of view, we might look upon 
history as the sequel to zoology; for while with all 
other animals it is enough to observe the species, 
with man individuals, and therefore individual 
events have to be studied; because every man pos 
sesses a character as an individual. And since in 
dividuals and events are without number or end, 
an essential imperfection attaches to history. In 
the study of it, all that a man learns never con 
tributes to lessen that which he has still to learn. 
With any real science, a perfection of knowledge 
is, at any rate, conceivable. 


When we gain access to the histories of China 
and of India, the endlessness of the subject-matter 
will reveal to us the defects in the study, and force 
our historians to see that the object of science is 
to recognize the many in the one, to perceive the 
rules in any given example, and to apply to the life 
of nations a knowledge of mankind; not to go on 
counting up facts ad infinitum. 

There are two kinds of history; the history of 
politics and the history of literature and art. The 
one is the history of the will; the other, that of the 
intellect. The first is a tale of woe, even of terror: 
it is a record of agony, struggle, fraud, and horrible 
murder en masse. The second is everywhere pleas 
ing and serene, like the intellect when left to itself. 
even though its path be one of error. Its chief 
branch is the history of philosophy. This is, in fact, 
its fundamental bass, and the notes of it are heard 
even in the other kind of history. These deep tones 
guide the formation of opinion, and opinion rules 
the world. Hence philosophy, rightly understood, 
is a material force of the most powerful kind, 
though very slow in its working. The philosophy 
of a period is thus the fundamental bass of its 

The NEWSPAPER is the second-hand in the clock 
of history; and it is not only made of baser metal 
than those which point to the minute and the hour, 
but it seldom goes right. 

The so-called leading article is the chorus to the 
drama of passing events. 

Exaggeration of every kind is as essential to 
journalism as it is to the dramatic art; for the 
object of journalism is to make events go as far 
as possible. Thus it is that all journalists are, in 
the very nature of their calling, alarmists ; and this 
is their way of giving interest to what they write, 


Herein they are like little dogs; if anything stirs, 
they immediately set up a shrill bark. 

Therefore, let us carefully regulate the attention 
to be paid to this trumpet of danger, so that it may 
not disturb our digestion. Let us recognize that 
a newspaper is at best but a magnifying-glass, and 
very often merely a shadow on the wall. 

The pen is to thought what the stick is to walk 
ing; but you walk most easily when you have no 
stick, and you think with the greatest perfection 
when you have no pen in your hand. It is only 
when a man begins to be old that he likes to use a 
stick and is glad to take up his pen. 

When an hypothesis has once come to birth in 
the mind, or gained a footing there, it leads a life 
so far comparable with the life of an organism, as 
that it assimilates matter from the outer world only 
when it is like in kind with it and beneficial; and 
when, contrarily, such matter is not like in kind 
but hurtful, the hypothesis, equally with the or 
ganism, throws it off, or, if forced to take it, gets 
rid of it again entire. 

To gain immortality an author must possess so 
many excellences that while it will not be easy to 
find anyone to understand and appreciate them 
all, there will be men in every age who are able 
to recognize and value some of them. In this way 
the credit of his book will be maintained through 
out the long course of centuries, in spite of the 
fact that human interests are always changing. 

An author like this, who has a claim to the con 
tinuance of his life even with posterity, can only 
be a man who, over the wide earth, will seek his 
like in vain, and offer a palpable contrast w r ith 
everyone else in virtue of his unmistakable distinc 
tion. TsTay, more : were he, like the wandering Jew, 
to live through several generations, he would still 


remain in the same superior position. If this were 
not so, it would be difficult to see why his thoughts 
should not perish like those of other men. 

Metaphors and similes are of great value, in so 
far as they explain an unknown relation by a 
known one. Even the more detailed simile which 
grows into a parable or an allegory, is nothing more 
than the exhibition of some relation in its simplest, 
most visible and palpable form. The growth of 
ideas rests, at bottom, upon similes; because ideas 
arise by a process of combining the similarities and 
neglecting the differences between things. Further, 
intelligence, in the strict sense of the word, ulti 
mately consists in a seizing of relations; and a 
clear and pure grasp of relations is all the more 
often attained when the comparison is made be 
tween cases that lie wide apart from one another, 
and between things of quite different nature. As 
long as a relation is known to me as existing only 
in a single case, I have but an individual idea of 
it in other words, only an intuitive knowledge of 
it; but as soon as I see the same relation in two 
different cases, I have a general idea of its whole 
nature, and this is a deeper and more perfect 

Since, then, similes and metaphors are such a 
powerful engine of knowledge, it is a sign of great 
intelligence in a writer if his similes are unusual 
and, at the same time, to the point. Aristotle also 
observes that by far the most important thing to 
a writer is to have this power of metaphor; for it 
is a gift which cannot be acquired, and it is a mark 
of genius. 

As regards reading, to require that a man shall 
retain everything he has ever read, is like asking 
him to carry about with him all he has ever eaten. 
The one kind of food has given him bodily, and 


the other mental, nourishment; and it is through 
these two means that he has grown to be what he 
is. The body assimilates only that which is like it; 
and so a man retains in his mind only that which 
interests him, in other words, that which suits his 
system of thought or his purposes in life. 

If a man wants to read good books, he must 
make a point of avoiding bad ones ; for life is short, 
and time and energy limited. 

Bepetitio est mater studiorum. Any book that 
is at all important ought to be at once read through 
twice ; partly because, on a second reading, the con 
nection of the different portions of the book will 
be better understood, and the beginning compre 
hended only when the end is known; and partly be 
cause we are not in the same temper and disposi 
tion on both readings. On the second perusal we 
get a new view of every passage and a different 
impression of the whole book, which then appears 
in another light. 

A man s works are the quintessence of his mind, 
and even though he may possess very great ca 
pacity, they will always be incomparably more 
valuable than his conversation. Nay, in all essen 
tial matters his works will not only make up for 
the lack of personal intercourse with him, but they 
will far surpass it in solid advantages. The writ 
ings even of a man of moderate genius may be 
edifying, worth reading and instructive, because 
they are his quintessence the result and fruit of 
all his thought and study; whilst conversation with 
him may be unsatisfactory. 

So it is that we can read books by men in whose 
company we find nothing to please, and that a high 
degree of culture leads us to seek entertainment 
almost wholly from books and not from men. 


THE following brief remarks on the critical 
faculty are chiefly intended to show that, for the 
most part, there is no such thing. It is a rara avis; 
almost as rare, indeed, as the phoenix, which ap 
pears only once in five hundred years. 

When we speak of taste an expression not 
chosen with any regard for it we mean the dis 
covery, or, it may be only the recognition, of what 
is right cesthetically , apart from the guidance of 
any rule; and this, either because no rule has as 
yet been extended to the matter in question, or 
else because, if existing, it is unknown to the artist, 
or the critic, as the case may be. Instead of taste, 
we might use the expression cesthetic sense, if this 
were not tautological. 

The perceptive critical taste is, so to speak, the 
female analogue to the male quality of productive 
talent or genius. Not capable of begetting great 
work itself, it consists in a capacity of reception, 
that is to say, of recognizing as such what is right, 
fit, beautiful, or the reverse; in other words, of 
discriminating the good from the bad, of discover 
ing and appreciating the one and condemning the 

In appreciating a genius, criticism should not 
deal with the errors in his productions or with the 
poorer of his works, and then proceed to rate him 
low; it should attend only to the qualities in which 
he most excels. For in the sphere of intellect, as 



in other spheres, weakness and perversity cleave so 
firmly to human nature that even the most bril 
liant mind is not wholly and at all times free from 
them. Hence the great errors to be found even in 
the works of the greatest men; or as Horace puts 
it, quandoque bonus dormitat Homerus. 

That which distinguishes genius, and should be 
the standard for judging it, is the height to which 
it is able to soar when it is in the proper mood 
and finds a fitting occasion a height always out 
of the reach of ordinary talent. And, in like man 
ner, it is a very dangerous thing to compare two 
great men of the same class ; for instance, two great 
poets, or musicians, or philosophers, or artists; be 
cause injustice to the one or the other, at least for 
the moment, can hardly be avoided. For in making 
a comparison of the kind the critic looks to some 
particular merit of the one and at once discovers 
that it is absent in the other, who is thereby dis 
paraged. And then if the process is reversed, and 
the critic begins with the latter and discovers his 
peculiar merit, which is quite of a different order 
from that presented by the former, with whom it 
may be looked for in vain, the result is that both of 
them suffer undue depreciation. 

There are critics who severally think that it rests 
with each one of them what shall be accounted good, 
and what bad. They all mistake their own toy- 
trumpets for the trombones of fame. 

A drug does not effect its purpose if the dose 
is too large; and it is the same with censure and 
adverse criticism when it exceeds the measure of 

The disastrous thing for intellectual merit is that 
it must wait for those to praise the good who have 
themselves produced nothing but what is bad ; nay, 


it is a primary misfortune that it has to receive its 
crown at the hands of the critical power of man 
kind a quality of which most men possess only the 
weak and impotent semblance, so that the reality 
may be numbered amongst the rarest gifts of 
nature. Hence La Bruyere s remark is, unhap 
pily, as true as it is neat. Apres I* esprit de dis- 
cernement, he says, ce qu il y a au monde de plus 
rare, ce sont les diamans et les perles. The spirit 
of discernment! the critical faculty! it is these that 
are lacking. Men do not know how to distinguish 
the genuine from the false, the corn from the chaff, 
gold from copper; or to perceive the wide gulf 
that separates a genius from an ordinary man. 
Thus we have that bad state of things described 
in an old-fashioned verse, which gives it as the lot 
of the great ones here on earth to be recognized only 
when they are gone: 

Es ist nun das Geschick der Grossen Tiier auf Erden, 

Erst wann sie nicht mehr sind, von uns erkannt zu werden. 

When any genuine and excellent work makes its 
appearance, the chief difficulty in its way is the 
amount of bad work it finds already in possession 
of the field, and accepted as though it were good. 
And then if, after a long time, the new comer really 
succeeds, by a hard struggle, in vindicating his 
place for himself and winning reputation, he will 
soon encounter fresh difficulty from some affected, 
dull, awkward imitator, whom people drag in, with 
the object of calmly setting him up on the altar 
beside the genius; not seeing the difference and 
reallv thinking that here they have to do with 
another great man. This is what Yriarte means 
by the first lines of his twenty-eighth Fable, where 


he declares that the ignorant rabble always sets 
equal value on the good and the bad: 

Siempre acostumbra hacer el vulgo necio 
De lo bueno y lo malo igual aprecio. 

So even Shakespeare s dramas had, immediately 
after his death, to give place to those of Ben Jon- 
son, Massinger, Beaumont and Fletcher, and to 
yield the supremacy for a hundred years. So 
Kant s serious philosophy was crowded out by the 
nonsense of Fichte, Schelling, Jacobi, Hegel. And 
even in a sphere accessible to all, we have seen un 
worthy imitators quickly diverting public attention 
from the incomparable Walter Scott. For, say 
what you will, the public has no sense for excellence, 
and therefore no notion how very rare it is to find 
men really capable of doing anything great in 
poetry, philosophy, or art, or that their works are 
alone worthy of exclusive attention. The dabblers, 
whether in verse or in any other high sphere, should 
be every day unsparingly reminded that neither 
gods, nor men, nor booksellers have pardoned their 
mediocrity : 

mediocribus esse poetis 
Non homines, non Di } non concessere columnce. 1 

Are they not the weeds that prevent the corn com 
ing up, so that they may cover all the ground 
themselves? And then there happens that which 
has been well and freshly described by the lamented 
Feuchtersleben, 3 who died so young: how people 

1 Horace, Ars Poetica, 372. 

2 Translator s Note. Ernst Freiherr von Feuchtersleben 
(1806-49), an Austrian physician, philosopher, and poet, and a 
specialist in medical psychology. The best known of his songs 
is that beginning "Es ist bestimmt in Gottes Rath/ to which 
Mendelssohn composed one of his finest melodies. 


cry out in their haste that nothing is being done, 
while all the while great work is quietly growing 
to maturity; and then, when it appears, it is not 
seen or heard in the clamor, but goes its way 
silently, in modest grief: 

"1st dock/ rufen sie vermessen 
"Nichts im Werke, nichts gethan! f 

Und das Grosse, reift indessen 

Still her an. 

Es ersheint nun: niemand sieht es, 
Niemand hort es fm Geschrei 
Mit bescheid ner Trauer zieht es 
Still vorbei. 

This lamentable death of the critical faculty is 
not less obvious in the case of science, as is shown 
by the tenacious life of false and disproved theories. 
If they are once accepted, they may go on bidding 
defiance to truth for fifty or even a hundred years 
and more, as stable as an iron pier in the midst of 
the waves. The Ptolemaic system was still held 
a century after Copernicus had promulgated his 
theory. Bacon, Descartes and Locke made their 
way extremely slowly and only after a long time; 
as the reader may see by d Alembert s celebrated 
Preface to the Encyclopedia. Newton was riot 
more successful; and this is sufficiently proved by 
the bitterness and contempt with which Leibnitz 
attacked his theory of gravitation in the controversy 
with Clarke. 1 Although Newton lived for almost 
forty years after the appearance of the Principia, 
his teaching was, when he died, only to some extent 
accepted in his own country, whilst outside Eng 
land he counted scarcely twenty adherents; if we 
may believe the introductory note to Voltaire s ex- 

1 See especially 35, 113, 118, 120, 122, 12a 


position of his theory. It was, indeed, chiefly ow 
ing to this treatise of Voltaire s that the system 
became known in France nearly twenty years after 
Newton s death. Until then a firm, resolute, and 
patriotic stand was made by the Cartesian Vortices; 
whilst only forty years previously, this same Carte 
sian philosophy had been forbidden in the French 
schools ; and now in turn d Agnesseau, the Chancel 
lor, refused Voltaire the Imprimatur for his 
treatise on the Newtonian doctrine. On the other 
hand, in our day Newton s absurd theory of color 
still completely holds the field, forty years after 
the publication of Goethe s. Hume, too, was dis 
regarded up to his fiftieth year, though he began 
very early and wrote in a thoroughly popular 
style. And Kant, in spite of having written and 
talked all his life long, did not become a famous 
man until he was sixty. 

Artists and poets have, to be sure, more chance 
than thinkers, because their public is at least a 
hundred times as large. Still, what was thought 
of Beethoven and Mozart during their lives? what 
of Dante? what even of Shakespeare? If the lat- 
ter s contemporaries had in any way recognized 
his worth, at least one good and accredited portrait 
of him would have come down to us from ar age 
when the art of painting flourished ; whereas we pos 
sess only some very doubtful pictures, a bad cop 
perplate, and a still worse bust on his tomb. 1 And 
in like manner, if he had been duly honored, speci 
mens of his handwriting would have been pre 
served to us by the hundred, instead of being 
confined, as is the case, to the signatures to a few 

1 A. Wivell : An Inquiry into the History, Authenticity, and 
Characteristics of Shakespeare s Portraits; with 21 engravings. 
London, 1836. 


legal documents. The Portuguese are still proud 
of their only poet Camoens. He lived, however, 
on alms collected every evening in the street by a 
black slave whom he had brought with him from 
the Indies. In time, no doubt, justice will be done 
everyone; tempo e galanf uomo; but it is as late 
and slow in arriving as in a court of law, and the 
secret condition of it is that the recipient shall be 
no longer alive. The precept of Jesus the son of 
Sirach is faithfully followed: Judge none blessed 
before his death* He, then, who has produced 
immortal works, must find comfort by applying to 
them the words of the Indian myth, that the 
minutes of life amongst the immortals seem like 
years of earthly existence; and so, too, that years 
upon earth are only as the minutes of the ii Ai 

This lack of critical insight is also shown by t v < 
fact that, while in every century the excellent woiK 
of earlier time is held in honor, that of its own is 
misunderstood, and the attention which is its due 
is given to bad work, such as every decade carries 
with it only to be the sport of the next. That men 
are slow to recognize genuine merit when it appears 
in their own age, also proves that they do not 
understand or enjoy or really value the long-ac 
knowledged works of genius, which they honor only 
on the score of authority. The crucial test is the 
fact that bad work Fichte s philosophy, for ex 
ample if it wins any reputation, also maintains it 
for one or two generations ; and only when its public 
is very large does its fall follow sooner. 

Now, just as the sun cannot shed its light but to 
the eye that sees it, nor music sound but to the 

1 Ecclesiasticus, xi. 28. 


hearing ear, so the value of all masterly work in 
art and science is conditioned by the kinship and 
capacity of the mind to which it speaks. It is only 
such a mind as this that possesses the magic word 
to stir and call forth the spirits that lie hidden in 
great work. To the ordinary mind a masterpiece 
is a sealed cabinet of mystery, an unfamiliar 
musical instrument from which the player, however 
much he may flatter himself, can draw none but 
confused tones. How different a painting looks 
when seen in a good light, as compared with some 
dark corner ! Just in the same way, the impression 
made by a masterpiece varies with the capacity of 
the mind to understand it. 

A fine work, then, requires a mind sensitive to 
!J : beauty; a thoughtful work, a mind that can 
TvVly think, if it is to exist and live at all. But 

,s! it may happen only too often that he who 
g. v es a fine work to the world afterwards feels like 
a maker of fireworks, who displays with enthusiasm 
the wonders that have taken him so much time and 
trouble to prepare, and then learns that he has 
come to the wrong place, and that the fancied 
spectators were one and all inmates of an asylum 
for the blind. Still even that is better than if his 
public had consisted entirely of men who made fire 
works themselves; as in this case, if his display 
had been extraordinarily good, it might possibly 
have cost him his head. 

The source of all pleasure and delight is the 
feeling of kinship. Even with the sense of beauty 
it is unquestionably our own species in the animal 
world, and then again our own race, that appears 
to us the fairest. So. too, in intercourse with others, 
every man shows a decided preference for those 
who resemble him: and a blockhead will find the 


society of another blockhead incomparably more 
pleasant than that of any number of great minds 
put together. Every man must necessarily take 
his chief pleasure in his own work, because it is 
the mirror of his own mind, the echo of his own 
thought; and next in order will come the work 
of people like him; that is to say, a dull, shallow 
and perverse man, a dealer in mere words, will give 
his sincere and hearty applause only to that which 
is dull, shallow, perverse or merely verbose. On 
the other hand, he will allow merit to the work of 
great minds only on the score of authority, in other 
words, because he is ashamed to speak his opinion; 
for in reality they give him no pleasure at all. 
They do not appeal to him; nay, they repel him; 
and he will not confess this even to himself. The 
works of genius cannot be fully enjoyed except 
by those who are themselves of the privileged 
order. The first recognition of them, however, 
when they exist without authority to support them, 
demands considerable superiority of mind. 

When the reader takes all this into considera 
tion, he should be surprised, not that great work 
is so late in winning reputation, but that it wins it 
at all. And as a matter of fact, fame comes only 
by a slow and complex process. The stupid person 
is by degrees forced, and as it were, tamed, into 
recognizing the superiority of one who stands im 
mediately above him; this one in his turn bows 
before some one else; and so it goes on until the 
weight of the votes gradually prevail over their 
number; and this is just the condition of all 
genuine, in other words, deserved fame. But until 
then, the greatest genius, even after he has passed 
his time of trial, stands like a king amidst a crowd 
of his own subjects, who do not know him by sight 


and therefore will not do his behests; unless, in 
deed, his chief ministers of state are in his train. 
For no subordinate official can be the direct re 
cipient of the royal commands, as he knows only 
the signature of his immediate superior; and this 
is repeated all the way up into the highest ranks, 
where the under-secretary attests the minister s 
signature, and the minister that of the king. There 
are analogous stages to be passed before a genius 
can attain widespread fame. This is why his repu 
tation most easily comes to a standstill at the very 
outset; because the highest authorities, of whom 
there can be but few, are most frequently not to be 
found; but the further down he goes in the scale 
the more numerous are those who take the word 
from above, so that his fame is no more arrested. 

We must console ourselves for this state of things 
by reflecting that it is really fortunate that the 
greater number of men do not form a judgment on 
their own responsibility, but merely take it on 
authority. For what sort of criticism should we 
have on Plato and Kant, Homer, Shakespeare and 
Goethe, if every man were to form his opinion by 
ivhat he really has and enjoys of these writers, in 
stead of being forced by authority to speak of 
them in a fit and proper way, however little he 
may really feel what he says. Unless something 
of this kind took place, it would be impossible for 
true merit, in any high sphere, to attain fame at 
all. At the same time it is also fortunate that 
every man has just so much critical power of his 
own as is necessary for recognizing the superiority 
of those who are placed immediately over him, and 
for following their lead. This means that the many 
come in the end to submit to the authority of the 
few; and there results that hierarchy of critical 


judgments on which is based the possibility of a 
steady, and eventually wide-reaching, fame. 

The lowest class in the community is quite im 
pervious to the merits of a great genius; and for 
these people there is nothing left but the monument 
raised to him, which, by the impression it produces 
on their senses, awakes in them a dim idea of the 
man s greatness. 

Literary journals should be a dam against the 
unconscionable scribbling of the age, and the ever- 
increasing deluge of bad and useless books. Their 
judgments should be uncorrupted, just and rigor 
ous; and every piece of bad work done by an in 
capable person; every device by which the empty 
head tries to come to the assistance of the empty 
purse, that is to say, about nine-tenths of all ex 
isting books, should be mercilessly scourged. Lit 
erary journals would then perform their duty, 
which is to keep down the craving for writing and 
put a check upon the deception of the public, in 
stead of furthering these evils by a miserable tolera 
tion, which plays into the hands of author and 
publisher, and robs the reader of his time and his 

If there were such a paper as I mean, every bad 
writer, every brainless compiler, every plagiarist 
from other s books, every hollow and incapable 
place-hunter, every sham-philosopher, every vain 
and languishing poetaster, would shudder at the 
prospect of the pillory in which his bad work would 
inevitably have to stand soon after publication. 
This would paralyze his twitching fingers, to the 
true welfare of literature, in which what is bad is 
not only useless but positively pernicious. Now, 
most books are bad and ought to have remained 
unwritten. Consequently praise should be as rare 


as is now the case with blame, which is withheld 
under the influence of personal considerations, 
coupled with the maxim accedas socius, laudes 
lauderis ut dbsens. 

It is quite wrong to try to introduce into litera 
ture the same toleration as must necessarily pre 
vail in society towards those stupid, brainless 
people who everywhere swarm in it. In literature 
such people are impudent intruders; and to dis 
parage the bad is here duty towards the good; for 
he who thinks nothing bad will think nothing good 
either. Politeness, which has its source in social 
relations, is in literature an alien, and often in 
jurious, element; because it exacts that bad work 
shall be called good. In this way the very aim of 
science and art is directly frustrated. 

The ideal journal could, to be sure, be written 
only by people who joined incorruptible honesty 
with rare knowledge and still rarer power of judg 
ment ; so that perhaps there could, at the very most, 
be one, and even hardly one, in the whole country; 
but there it would stand, like a just Aeropagus, 
every member of which would have to be elected 
by all the others. Under the system that prevails 
at present, literary journals are carried on by a 
clique, and secretly perhaps also by booksellers for 
the good of the trade; and they are often nothing 
but coalitions of bad heads to prevent the good 
ones succeeding. As Goethe once remarked to me, 
nowhere is there so much dishonesty as in literature, 

But, above all, anonymity, that shield of all 
literary rascality, would have to disappear. It was 
introduced under the pretext of protecting the 
honest critic, who warned the public, against the 
resentment of the author and his friends. But 
where there is one case of this sort, there will be a 


hundred where it merely serves to take all responsi 
bility from the man who cannot stand by what he 
has said, or possibly to conceal the shame of one 
who has been cowardly and base enough to recom 
mend a book to the public for the purpose of 
putting money into his own pocket. Often enough 
it is only a cloak for covering the obscurity, in 
competence and insignificance of the critic. It is 
incredible what impudence these fellows will show, 
and what literary trickery they will venture to com 
mit, as soon as they know they are safe under the 
shadow of anonymity. Let me recommend a 
general Anti- criticism, a universal medicine or 
panacea, to put a stop to all anonymous reviewing, 
whether it praises the bad or blames the good: 
Rascal! your name! For a man to wrap himself 
up and draw his hat over his face, and then fall 
upon people who are walking about without any 
disguise this is not the part of a gentleman, it is 
the part of a scoundrel and a knave. 

An anonymous review has no more authority 
than an anonymous letter; and one should be re 
ceived with the same mistrust as the other. Or 
shall we take the name of the man who consents 
to preside over what is, in the strict sense of the 
word, une societe anonyme as a guarantee for the 
veracity of his colleagues ? 

Even Rousseau, in the preface to the Nouvelle 
Helo ise, declares tout honnete homme doit avouer 
les livres qu il public; which in plain language 
means that every honorable man ought to sign his 
articles, and that no one is honorable who does not 
do so. How much truer this is of polemical writ 
ing, which is the general character of reviews! 
Riemer was quite right in the opinion he gives in 


his Reminiscences of Goethe: 1 An overt enemy, he 
says, an enemy who meets you face to face, is an 
honorable man, who will treat you fairly, and with 
whom you can come to terms and be reconciled: 
but an enemy who conceals himself is a base, cow 
ardly scoundrel, who has not courage enough to 
avow his own judgment; it is not his opinion that 
he cares about, but only the secret pleasures of 
wreaking his anger without being found out or 
punished. This will also have been Goethe s opin 
ion, as he was generally the source from which 
Riemer drew his observations. And, indeed, 
Rousseau s maxim applies to every line that is 
printed. Would a man in a mask ever be allowed 
to harangue a mob, or speak in any assembly; and 
that, too, when he was going to attack others and 
overwhelm them with abuse? 

Anonymity is the refuge for all literary and 
journalistic rascality. It is a practice which must 
be completely stopped. Every article, even in a 
newspaper, should be accompanied by the name of 
its author; and the editor should be made strictly 
responsible for the accuracy of the signature. The 
freedom of the press should be thus far restricted; 
so that when a man publicly proclaims through the 
far-sounding trumpet of the newspaper, he should 
be answerable for it, at any rate with his honor, if 
he has any ; and if he has none, let his name neutral 
ize the effect of his words. And since even the 
most insignificant person is known in his own circle, 
the result of such a measure would be to put an 
end to two-thirds of the newspaper lies, and to 
restrain the audacity of many a poisonous tongue. 

1 Preface, p. xxix. 


WRITERS may be classified as meteors, planets 
and fixed stars. A meteor makes a striking effect 
for a moment. You look up and cry There! and it 
is gone for ever. Planets and wandering stars last 
a much longer time. They often outshine the 
fixed stars and are confounded with them by the 
inexperienced; but this only because they are near. 
It is not long before they must yield their place; 
nay, the light they give is reflected only, and the 
sphere of their influence is confined to their own 
orbit their contemporaries. Their path is one of 
change and movement, and with the circuit of a 
few years their tale is told. Fixed stars are the 
only ones that are constant; their position in the 
firmament is secure ; they shine with a light of their 
own; their effect to-day is the same as it was yes 
terday, because, having no parallax, their appear 
ance does not alter with a difference in our stand 
point. They belong not to one system, one nation 
only, but to the universe. And just because they 
are so very far away, it is usually many years be 
fore their light is visible to the inhabitants of this 

We have seen in the previous chapter that where 
a man s merits are of a high order, it is difficult for 
him to win reputation, because the public is un 
critical and lacks discernment. But another and 
no less serious hindrance to fame comes from the 
envy it has to encounter. For even in the lowest 
kinds of work, envy balks even the beginnings of 
a reputation, and never ceases to cleave to it up to 
the last. How great a part is played by envy in 
the wicked ways of the world! Ariosto is right in 


saying that the dark side of our mortal life pre 
dominates, so full it is of this evil: 

questa assai piu oscura che serena 
Vita mortal, tutta d invidia plena. 

For envy is the moving spirit of that secret and 
informal, though flourishing, alliance everywhere 
made by mediocrity against individual eminence, 
no matter of what kind. In his own sphere of work 
no one will allow another to be distinguished: he 
is an intruder who cannot be tolerated. Si quelq un 
excelle par mi nous, quit aille eccceller ailleurs! 
this is the universal password of the second-rate. 
In addition, then, to the rarity of true merit and 
the difficulty it has in being understood and recog 
nized, there is the envy of thousands to be reckoned 
with, all of them bent on suppressing, nay, on 
smothering it altogether. No one is taken for what 
he is^ but for what others make of him; and this 
is the handle used by mediocrity to keep down dis 
tinction, by not letting it come up as long as that 
can possibly be prevented. 

There are two ways of behaving in regard to 
merit: either to have some of one s own, or to re 
fuse any to others. The latter method is more 
convenient, and so it is generally adopted. As 
envy is a mere sign of deficiency, so to envy merit 
argues the lack of it. My excellent Balthazar 
Gracian has given a very fine account of this re 
lation between envy and merit in a lengthy fable, 
which may be found in his Discrete under the 
heading Hombre de ostentacion. He describes all 
the birds as meeting together and conspiring against 
the peacock, because of his magnificent feathers. 
If, said the magpie, we could only manage to put 
a stop to the cursed parading of his tail, there 
would soon be an end of his beauty; for what is not 
seen is as good as what does not exist. 


This explains how modesty came to be a virtue. 
It was invented only as a protection against envy. 
That there have always been rascals to urge this 
virtue, and to rejoice heartily over the bashfulness 
of a man of merit, has been shown at length in 
my chief work. 1 In Lichtenberg s Miscellaneous 
Writings I find this sentence quoted: Modesty 
should be the virtue of those who possess no other. 
Goethe has a well-known saying, which offends 
many people: It is only knaves who are modest! 
Nur die Lumpen sind bescheiden! but it has its 
prototype in Cervantes, who includes in his Journey 
up Parnassus certain rules of conduct for poets, 
and amongst them the following: Everyone whose 
verse shows him to be a poet should have a high 
opinion of himself, relying on the proverb that he 
is a knave who thinks himself one. And Shake 
speare, in many of his Sonnets, which gave him 
the only opportunity he had of speaking of himself, 
declares, with a confidence equal to his ingenuous 
ness, that what he writes is immortal. 2 

A method of underrating good work often used 
by envy in reality, however, only the obverse side 
of it consists in the dishonorable and unscrupulous 
laudation of the bad; for no sooner does bad work 
gain currency than it draws attention from the 
good. But however effective this method may be 

1 Welt als Wille, Vol. II. c. 37. 

2 Collier, one of his critical editors, in his Introduction to the 
Sonettes, remarks upon this point: "In many of them are to 
be found most remarkable indications of self-confidence and of 
assurance in the immortality of his verses, and in this respect 
the author s opinion was constant and uniform. He never 
scruples to express it, ... and perhaps there is no writer of 
ancient or modern times who, for the quantity of such writings 
left behind him, has so frequently or so strongly declared that 
what he had produced in this department of poetry the world 
would not willingly let die/ " 


for a while, especially if it is applied on a large 
scale, the day of reckoning comes at last, and the 
fleeting credit given to bad work is paid off by 
the lasting discredit which overtakes those who 
abjectly praised it. Hence these critics prefer to 
remain anonymous. 

A like fate threatens, though more remotely, 
those who depreciate and censure good work; and 
consequently many are too prudent to attempt it. 
But there is another way; and when a man of 
eminent merit appears, the first effect he produces 
is often only to pique all his rivals, just as the pea 
cock s tail offended the birds. This reduces them 
to a deep silence; and their silence is so unanimous 
that it savors of preconcertion. Their tongues are 
all paralyzed. It is the silentium livoris described 
by Seneca. This malicious silence, which is tech 
nically known as ignoring, may for a long time 
interfere with the growth of reputation; if, as hap 
pens in the higher walks of learning, where a man s 
immediate audience is wholly composed of rival 
workers and professed students, who then form the 
channel of his fame, the greater public is obliged 
to use its suffrage without being able to examine 
the matter for^ itself. And if, in the end, that mali 
cious silence is broken in upon by the voice of 
praise, it will be but seldom that this happens en 
tirely apart from some ulterior aim, pursued by 
those who thus manipulate justice. For, as Goethe 
says in the West-ostlicher Divan, a man can get 
no recognition, either from many persons or from 
only one, unless it is to publish abroad the critic ? 
own discernment: 

Denn es ist Jcein Anerkenen, 
Weder Vieler, noch des Einen, 
Wenn es nicht am Tage fordert, 
Wo man selbst was mochte snheinen. 


The credit you allow to another man engaged in 
work similar to your own or akin to it, must at 
bottom be withdrawn from yourself; and you can 
praise him only at the expense of your own claims. 

Accordingly, mankind is in itself not at all in 
clined to award praise and reputation; it is more 
disposed to blame and find fault, whereby it in 
directly praises itself. If, notwithstanding this, 
praise is won from mankind, some extraneous 
motive must prevail. I am not here referring to 
the disgraceful way in which mutual friends will 
puff one another into a reputation ; outside of that, 
an effectual motive is supplied by the feeling that 
next to the merit of doing something oneself, comes 
that of correctly appreciating and recognizing 
what others have done. This accords with the three 
fold division of heads drawn up by Hesiod, 1 and 
afterwards by Machiavelli. 2 There are, says the 
latter, in the capacities of mankind, three varieties: 
one man mil understand a thing by himself; an 
other so far as it is explained to him; a third, neither 
of himself nor when it is put clearly before him. 
He, then, who abandons hope of making good his 
claims to the first class, will be glad to seize the 
opportunity of taking a place in the second. It 
is almost wholly owing to this state of things that 
merit may always rest assured of ultimately meet 
ing with recognition. 

To this also is due the fact that when the value 
of a work has once been recognized and may no 
longer be concealed or denied, all men vie in prais 
ing and honoring it; simply because they are con 
scious of thereby doing themselves an honor. They 
act in the spirit of Xenophon s remark : he must be 
a wise man who knows what is wise. So when 

1 Works and Days, 293. 

2 The Prince, eh. 22. 


they see that the prize of original merit is for ever 
out of their reach, they hasten to possess themselves 
of that which comes second best the correct ap 
preciation of it. Here it happens as with an army 
which has been forced to yield; when, just as 
previously every man wanted to be foremost in the 
fight, so now every man tries to be foremost in 
running away. They all hurry forward to offer 
their applause to one who is now recognized to be 
worthy of praise, in virtue of a recognition, as a 
rule unconscious, of that law of homogeneity which 
I mentioned in the last chapter ; so that it may seem 
as though their way of thinking and looking at 
things were homogeneous with that of the cele 
brated man, and that they may at least save the 
honor of their literary taste, since nothing else is 
left them. 

From this it is plain that, whereas it is very diffi 
cult to win fame, it is not hard to keep it when 
once attained; and also that a reputation which 
comes quickly does not last very long; for here too, 
quod cito fit, cito peril. It is obvious that if the 
ordinary average man can easily recognize, and the 
rival workers willingly acknowledge, the value of 
anv performance, it will not stand very much above 
the capacity of either of them to achieve it for 
themselves. Tantum quisque laudat, quantum se 
posse sperat imitari a man will prase a thing only 
so far as he hopes to be able to imitate it himself. 
Further, it is a suspicious sign if a reputation 
comes quickly; for an application of the laws of 
homogeneity will show that such a reputation is 
nothing but the direct applause of the multitude. 
What this means may be seen by a remark once 
made by Phocion, when he was interrupted in a 
speech by the loud cheers of the mob. Turning to 


his friends who were standing close by, he asked . 
Have I made a mistake and said something stupid? 1 

Contrarily, a reputation that is to last a long 
time must be slow in maturing, and the centuries 
of its duration have generally to be bought at the 
cost of contemporary praise. For that which is to 
keep its position so long, must be of a perfection 
difficult to attain; and even to recognize this per 
fection requires men who are not always to be 
found, and never in numbers sufficiently great to 
make themselves heard; whereas envy is always on 
the watch and doing its best to smother their voice. 
But with moderate talent, which soon meets with 
recognition, there is the danger that those who 
possess it will outlive both it and themselves; so 
that a youth of fame may be followed by an old 
age of obscurity. In the case of great merit, on 
the other hand, a man may remain unknown for 
many years, but make up for it later on by attain 
ing a brilliant reputation. And if it should be that 
this comes only after he is no more, well! he is to 
be reckoned amongst those of whom Jean Paul 
says that extreme unction is their baptism. He 
may console himself by thinking of the Saints, who 
also are canonized only after they are dead. 

Thus what Mahlmann 2 has said so well in 
H erodes holds good ; in this world truly great work 
never pleases at once, and the god set up by the 
multitude keeps his place on the altar but a short 

Ich denke, das wahre Grosse in der Welt 
1st immer nur Das was nicht gleich gefallt 
Und wen der Pobel zum Gotte weiht, 
Der steht auf dem Altar nur kurze Zeit. 

1 Plutarch, Apophthegms. 

2 Translator s Note. August Mahlmann (1771-1826), journal 
ist, poet and story-writer. His Herodes vor Bethlehem is a 
parody of Kotzebue s Hussiten vor Naumbura. 


It is worth mention that this rule is most directly 
confirmed in the case of pictures, where, as con 
noisseurs well know, the greatest masterpieces are 
not the first to attract attention. If they make a 
deep impression, it is not after one, but only after 
repeated, inspection; but then they excite more 
and more admiration every time they are seen. 

Moreover, the chances that any given work will 
be quickly and rightly appreciated, depend upon 
two conditions: firstly, the character of the work, 
whether high or low, in other words, easy or diffi 
cult to understand; and, secondly, the kind of 
public it attracts, whether large or small. This 
latter condition is, no doubt, in most instances a 
corollary of the former; but it also partly depends 
upon whether the work in question admits, like 
books and musical compositions, of being produced 
in great numbers. By the compound action of 
these two conditions, achievements which serve no 
materially useful end and these alone are under 
consideration here will vary in regard to the 
chances they have of meeting with timely recognition 
and due appreciation; and the order of precedence, 
beginning with those who have the greatest chance, 
will be somewhat as follows : acrobats, circus riders, 
ballet-dancers, jugglers, actors, singers, musicians, 
composers, poets (both the last on account of the 
multiplication of their works), architects, painters, 
sculptors, philosophers. 

The last place of all is unquestionably taken by 
philosophers because their works are meant not for 
entertainment, but for instruction, and because they 
presume some knowledge on the part of the reader, 
and require him to make an effort of his own to 
understand them. This makes their public ex 
tremely small, and causes their fame to be more 
remarkable for its length than for its breadth. 


And, in general, it may be said that the possibility 
of a man s fame lasting a long time, stands in 
almost inverse ratio with the chance that it will be 
early in making its appearance ; so that, as regards 
length of fame, the above order of precedence may 
be reversed. But, then, the poet and the composer 
will come in the end to stand on the same level 
as the philosopher ; since, when once a work is com 
mitted to writing, it is possible to preserve it to 
all time. However, the first place still belongs by 
right to the philosopher, because of the much 
greater scarcity of good work in this sphere, and 
the high importance of it; and also because of the 
possibility it offers of an almost perfect translation 
into any language. Sometimes, indeed, it happens 
that a philosopher s fame outlives even his works 
themselves; as has happened with Thales, Em- 
pedocles, Heraclitus, Democritus, Parmenides, 
Epicurus and many others. 

My remarks are, as I have said, confined to 
achievements that are not of any material use. 
Work that serves some practical end, or ministers 
directly to some pleasure of the senses, will never 
have any difficulty in being duly appreciated. No 
first-rate pastry-cook could long remain obscure in 
any town, to say nothing of having to appeal to 

Under fame of rapid growth is also to be reck 
oned fame of a false and artificial kind; where, for 
instance, a book is worked into a reputation by 
means of unjust praise, the help of friends, corrupt 
criticism, prompting from above and collusion from 
below. All this tells upon the multitude, which 
is rightly presumed to have no power of judging 
for itself. This sort of fame is like a swimming 
bladder, by its aid a heavy body may keep afloat. 
It bears up for a certain time, long or short accord- 


ing as the bladder is well sewed up and blown; 
but still the air comes out gradually, and the body 
sinks. This is the inevitable fate of all works which 
are famous by reason of something outside of them 
selves. False praise dies away; collusion comes 
to an end; critics declare the reputation un 
grounded; it vanishes, and is replaced by so much 
the greater contempt. Contrarily, a genuine work, 
which, having the source of its fame in itself, can 
kindle admiration afresh in every age, resembles a 
body of low specific gravity, which always keeps 
up of its own accord, and so goes floating down the 
stream of time. 

Men of great genius, whether their work be in 
poetry, philosophy or art, stand in all ages like 
isolated heroes, keeping up single-handed a desper* 
ate struggling against the onslaught of an army 
of opponents. 1 Is not this characteristic of the 
miserable nature of mankind? The dullness, gross- 
ness, perversity, silliness and brutality of by far 
the greater part of the race, are always an obstacle 
to the efforts of the genius, whatever be the method 
of his art ; they so form that hostile army to which 
at last he has to succumb. Let the isolated cham 
pion achieve what he may : it is slow to be acknowl 
edged; it is late in being appreciated, and then 
only on the score of authority; it may easily fall 
into neglect again, at any rate for a while. Ever 
afresh it finds itself opposed by false, shallow, and 
insipid ideas, which are better suited to that large 
majority, that so generally hold the field. Though 

1 Translator s Note. At this point Schopenhauer interrupts 
the thread of his discourse to speak at length upon an example 
of false fame. Those who are at all acquainted with the philoso 
pher s views will not be surprised to find that the writer thus 
held up to scorn is Hegel ; and readers of the other volumes in 
this series will, with the translator, have had by now quite 
enough of the subject. The passage is therefore omitted. 


the critic may step forth and say, like Hamlet 
when he held up the two portraits to his wretched 
mother, Have you eyes? Have you eyes? alas! 
they have none. When I watch the behavior of a 
crowd of people in the presence of some great 
master s work, and mark the manner of their ap 
plause, they often remind me of trained monkeys 
in a show. The monkey s gestures are, no doubt, 
much like those of men; but now and again they 
betray that the real inward spirit of these gestures 
is not in them. Their irrational nature peeps out. 
It is often said of a man that he is in advance of 
his age; and it follows from the above remarks that 
this must be taken to mean that he is in advance 
of humanity in general. Just because of this fact, 
a genius makes no direct appeal except to those 
who are too rare to allow of their ever forming 
a numerous body at any one period. If he is in 
this respect not particularly favored by fortune, 
he will be misunderstood by his own age; in other 
words, he will remain unaccepted until time gradu 
ally brings together the voices of those few persons 
who are capable of judging a work of such high 
character. Then posterity will say: This man was 
in advance of his age, instead of in advance of 
humanity; because humanity will be glad to lay the 
burden of its own faults upon a single epoch. 

Hence, if a man has been superior to his own age, 
he would also have been superior to any other; 
provided that, in that age, by some rare and happy 
chance, a few just men, capable of judging in the 
sphere of his achievements, had been born at the 
same time with him; just as when, according to a 
beautiful Indian myth, Vischnu becomes incarnate 
as a hero, so, too, Brahma at the same time appears 
as the singer of his deeds; and hence Valmiki, 
Vyasa and Kalidasa are incarnations of Brahma. 


In this sense, then, it may be said that every 
immortal work puts its age to the proof, whether 
or no it will be able to recognize the merit of it. 
As a rule, the men of any age stand such a test 
no better than the neighbors of Philemon and 
Baucis, who expelled the deities they failed to 
recognize. Accordingly, the right standard for 
judging the intellectual worth of any generation 
is supplied, not by the great minds that make their 
appearance in it for their capacities are the work 
of Nature, and the possibility of cultivating them 
a matter of chance circumstance but by the way 
in which contemporaries receive their works; 
whether, I mean, they give their applause soon and 
with a will, or late and in niggardly fashion, or 
leave it to be bestowed altogether by posterity. 

This last fate will be especially reserved for 
works of a high character. For the happy chance 
mentioned above will be all the more certain not 
to come, in proportion as there are few to appre 
ciate the kind of work done by great minds. Herein 
lies the immeasurable advantage possessed by 
poets in respect of reputation; because their work 
is accessible to almost everyone. If it had been 
possible for Sir Walter Scott to be read and criti 
cised by only some hundred persons, perhaps in 
his life-time any common scribbler would have 
been preferred to him; and afterwards, when he 
had taken his proper place, it would also have been 
said in his honor that he was in advance of his age. 
But if envy, dishonesty and the pursuit of personal 
aims are added to the incapacity of those hundred 
persons who, in the name of their generation, are 
called upon to pass judgment on a work, then in 
deed it meets with the same sad fate as attends a 
suitor who pleads before a tribunal of judges one 
and all corrupt. 


In corroboration of this, we find that the history 
of literature generally shows all those who made 
knowledge and insight their goal to have remained 
unrecognized and neglected, whilst those who 
paraded with the vain show of it received the ad 
miration of their contemporaries, together with the 

The effectiveness of an author turns chiefly upon 
his getting the reputation that he should be read. 
But by practicing various arts, by the operation 
of chance, and by certain natural affinities, this 
reputation is quickly won by a hundred worthless 
people: while a worthy writer may come by it very 
slowly and tardily. The former possess friends to 
help them; for the rabble is always a numerous 
body which holds well together. The latter has 
nothing but enemies; because intellectual supe 
riority is everywhere and under all circumstances 
the most hateful thing in the world, and especially 
to bunglers in the same line of work, who want to 
pass for something themselves. 1 

This being so, it is a prime condition for doing 
any great work any work which is to outlive its 
own age, that a man pay no heed to his contempo 
raries, their views and opinions, and the praise or 
blame which they bestow. This condition is, how 
ever, fulfilled of itself when a man really does any 
thing great, and it is fortunate that it is so. For 
if, in producing such a work, he were to look to 
the general opinion or the judgment of his col 
leagues, they would lead him astray at every step. 
Hence, if a man wants to go down to posterity, 
he must withdraw from the influence of his own 

1 If the professors of philosophy should chance to think that 
I am here hinting at them and the tactics they have for more 
than thirty years pursued toward my works, they have hit the 
nail upon the head. 


age. This will, of course, generally mean that he 
must also renounce any influence upon it, and be 
ready to buy centuries of fame by foregoing the 
applause of his contemporaries. 

For when any new and wide-reaching truth comes 
into the world and if it is new, it must be para 
doxical an obstinate stand will be made against 
it as long as possible; nay, people will continue to 
deny it even after they slacken their opposition 
and are almost convinced of its truth. Meanwhile 
it goes on quietly working its way, and, like an 
acid, undermining everything around it. From 
time to time a crash is heard; the old error comes 
tottering to the ground, and suddenly the new 
fabric of thought stands revealed, as though it were 
a monument just uncovered. Everyone recog 
nizes and admires it. To be sure, this all comes to 
pass for the most part very slowly. As a rule, 
people discover a man to be worth listening to only 
after he is gone ; their hear, hear, resounds when the 
orator has left the platform. 

Works of the ordinary type meet with a better 
fate. Arising as they do in the course of, and in 
connection with, the general advance in contempo 
rary culture, they are in close alliance with the 
spirit of their age in other words, just those 
opinions which happen to be prevalent at the time. 
They aim at suiting the needs of the moment. If 
they have any merit, it is soon recognized; and they 
gain currency as books which reflect the latest 
ideas. Justice, nay, more than justice, is done to 
them. They afford little scope for envy; since, as 
was said above, a man will praise a thing only so 
far as he hopes to be able to imitate it himself. 

But those rare works which are destined to be 
come the property of all mankind and to live for 
centuries, are, at their origin, too far in advance 


of the point at which culture happens to stand, 
and on that very account foreign to it and the 
spirit of their own time. They neither belong to 
it nor are they in any connection with it, and hence 
they excite no interest in those who are dominated 
by it. They belong to another, a higher stage of 
culture, and a time that is still far off. Their course 
is related to that of ordinary works as the orbit of 
Uranus to the orbit of Mercury. For the moment 
they get no justice done to them. People are at 
a loss how to treat them; so they leave them alone, 
and go their own snail s pace for themselves. Does 
the worm see the eagle as it soars aloft? 

Of the number of books written in any language 
about one in 100,000 forms a part of its real and 
permanent literature. What a fate this one book 
has to endure before it outstrips those 100,000 and 
gains its due place of honor! Such a book is the 
work of an extraordinary and eminent mind, and 
therefore it is specifically different from the others; 
a fact which sooner or later becomes manifest. 

Let no one fancy that things will ever improve 
in this respect. No! the miserable constitution of 
humanity never changes, though it may, to be sure, 
take somewhat varying forms with every genera 
tion. A distinguished mind seldom has its full 
effect in the life-time of its possessor; because, at 
bottom, it is completely and properly understood 
only by minds already akin to it. 

As it is a rare thing for even one man out of 
many millions to tread the path that leads to im 
mortality, he must of necessity be very lonely. 
The journey to posterity lies through a horribly 
dreary region, like the Lybian desert, of which, as 
is well known, no one has any idea who has not 
seen it for himself. Meanwhile let me before all 
things recommend the traveler to take light bag- 


gage with him; otherwise he will have to throw 
away too much on the road. Let him never forget 
the words of Balthazar Gracian: lo bueno si breve, 
dos vezes bueno good work is doubly good if it 
is short. This advice is specially applicable to my 
own countrymen. 

Compared with the short span of time they live, 
men of great intellect are like huge buildings, 
standing on a small plot of ground. The size of 
the building cannot be seen by anyone, just in front 
of it; nor, for an analogous reason, can the great 
ness of a genius be estimated while he lives. But 
when a century has passed, the world recognizes 
it and wishes him back again. 

If the perishable son of time has produced an 
imperishable work, how short his own life seems 
compared with that of his child! He is like Semela 
or Maia a mortal mother who gave birth to an 
immortal son; or, contrarily, he is like Achilles in 
regard to Thetis. What a contrast there is between 
what is fleeting and what is permanent! The 
short span of a man s life, his necessitous, afflicted, 
unstable existence, will seldom allow of his seeing 
even the beginning of his immortal child s brilliant 
career; nor will the father himself be taken for that 
which he really is. It may be said, indeed, that a 
man whose fame comes after him is the reverse of 
a nobleman, who is preceded by it. 

However, the only difference that it ultimately 
makes to a man to receive his fame at the hands 
of contemporaries rather than from posterity is that, 
in the former case, his admirers are separated from 
him by space, and in the latter by time. For even 
in the case of contemporary fame, a man does not, 
as a rule, see his admirers actually before him. 
Reverence cannot endure close proximity; it almost 
always dwells at some distance from its object; and 


for time will give it a thousand tongues. How 
long it may be before they speak, will of course 
depend upon the difficulty of the subject and the 
plausibility of the error; but come they will, and 
often it would be of no avail to try to anticipate 
them. In the worst cases it will happen with 
theories as it happens with affairs in practical life; 
where sham and deception, emboldened by success, 
advance to greater and greater lengths, until dis 
covery is made almost inevitable. It is just so 
with theories; through the blind confidence of the 
blockheads who broach them, their absurdity reaches 
such a pitch that at last it is obvious even to the 
dullest eye. We may thus say to such people: 
the wilder your statements, the better. 

There is also some comfort to be found in re 
flecting upon all the whims and crotchets which had 
their day and have now utterly vanished. In style, 
in grammar, in spelling, there are false notions of 
this sort which last only three or four years. But 
when the errors are on a large scale, while we lament 
the brevity of human life, we shall in any case, do 
well to lag behind our own age when we see it on 
a downward path. For there are two ways of not 
keeping on a level with the times. A man may be 
below it; or he may be above it. 


No difference of rank, position, or birth, is so 
great as the gulf that separates the countless mil 
lions who use their head only in the service of their 
belly, in other words, look upon it as an instrument 
of the will, and those very few and rare persons 
who have the courage to say: No! it is too good 
for that; my head shall be active only in its own 
service; it shall try to comprehend the wondrous 
and varied spectacle of this world, and then repro 
duce it in some form, whether as art or as, literature, 
that may answer to my character as an individual. 
These are the truly noble, the real noblesse of the 
world. The others are serfs and go with the soil 
glebce adscripti. Of course, I am here referring 
to those who have not only the courage, but also 
the call, and therefore the right, to order the head 
to quit the service of the will; with a result that 
proves the sacrifice to have been worth the making. 
In the case of those to whom all this can only par 
tially apply, the gulf is not so wide; but even though 
their talent be small, so long as it is real, there 
will always be a sharp line of demarcation between 
them and the millions. 1 

The works of fine art, poetry and philosophy pro 
duced by a nation are the outcome of the super 
fluous intellect existing in it. 

1 The correct scale for adjusting the hierarchy of intelligences 
is furnished by the degree in which the mind takes merely 
individual or approaches universal views of things. The brute 
recognizes only the individual as such: its comprehension does 
not extend beyond the limits of the individual. But man reduces 
the individual to the general; herein lies the exercise of his 
reason; and the higher his intelligence reaches, the nearer do 
his general ideas approach the point at which they become 



in the presence of the person revered it melts like 
butter in the sun. Accordingly, if a man is cele 
brated with his contemporaries, nine-tenths of those 
amongst whom he lives will let their esteem be 
guided by his rank and fortune; and the remaining 
tenth may perhaps have a dull consciousness of his 
high qualities, because they have heard about him 
from remote quarters. There is a fine Latin letter 
of Petrarch s on this incompatibility between rever 
ence and the presence of the person, and between 
fame and life. It comes second in his Epistolce 
familiar es? and it is addressed to Thomas Mes- 
sanensis. He there observes, amongst other things, 
that the learned men of his age all made it a rule 
to think little of a man s writings if they had even 
once seen him. 

Since distance, then, is essential if a famous man 
is to be recognized and revered, it does not matter 
whether it is distance of space or of time. It is 
true that he may sometimes hear of his fame in the 
one case, but never in the other; but still, genuine 
and great merit may make up for this by con 
fidently anticipating its posthumous fame. Nay, 
he who produces some really great thought is con 
scious of his connection with coming generations 
at the very moment he conceives it ; so that he feels 
the extension of his existence through centuries and 
thus lives with posterity as well as for it. And 
when, after enjoying a great man s work, we are 
seized with admiration for him, and wish him back, 
so that we might see and speak with him, and have 
him in our possession, this desire of ours is not 
unrequited; for he, too, has had his longing for 
that posterity which will grant the recognition, 
honor, gratitude and love denied by envious con 

1 In the Venetian edition of 1492. 


If intellectual works of the highest order are 
not allowed their due until they come before the 
tribunal of posterity, a contrary fate is prepared 
for certain brilliant errors which proceed from men 
of talent, and appear with an air of being well 
grounded. These errors are defended with so much 
acumen and learning that they actually become 
famous with their own age, and maintain their 
position at least during their author s lifetime. Of 
this sort are many false theories and wrong criti 
cisms; also poems and works of art, which exhibit 
some false taste or mannerism favored by con 
temporary prejudice. They gain reputation and 
currency simply because no one is yet forthcoming 
who knows how to refute them or otherwise prove 
their falsity; and when he appears, as he usually 
does, in the next generation, the glory of these 
works is brought to an end. Posthumous judges, 
be their decision favorable to the appellant or not, 
form the proper court for quashing the verdict of 
contemporaries. That is why it is so difficult and 
so rare to be victorious alike in both tribunals. 

The unfailing tendency of time to correct knowl 
edge and judgment should always be kept in view 
as a means of allaying anxiety, whenever any 
grievous error appears, whether in art, or science, 
or practical life, and gains ground; or when some 
false and thoroughly perverse policy of movement 
is undertaken and receives applause at the hands 
of men. No one should be angry, or, still less, 
despondent ; but simply imagine that the world has 
already abandoned the error in question, and now 
only requires time and experience to recognize of 
its own accord that which a clear vision detected 
at the first glance. 

When the facts themselves are eloquent of a 
truth, there is no need to rush to its aid with words : 


For him who can understand aright cum grano 
Us the relation between the genius and the 
normal man may, perhaps, be best expressed as 
follows: A genius has a double intellect, one for 
himself and the service of his will; the other for 
the world, of which he becomes the mirror, in 
virtue of his purely objective attitude towards it. 
The work of art or poetry or philosophy produced 
by the genius is simply the result, or quintessence, 
of this contemplative attitude, elaborated accord 
ing to certain technical rules. 

The normal man, on the other hand, has only 
a single intellect, which may be called subjective 
by contrast with the objective intellect of genius. 
However acute this subjective intellect may be 
and it exists in very various degrees of perfection 
it is never on the same level with the double in 
tellect of genius; just as the open chest notes of the 
human voice, however high, are essentially different 
from the falsetto notes. These, like the two upper 
octaves of the flute and the harmonics of the violin, 
are produced by the column of air dividing itself 
into two vibrating halves, with a node between them ; 
while the open chest notes of the human voice and 
the lower octave of the flute are produced by the 
undivided column of air vibrating as a whole. This 
illustration may help the reader to understand that 
specific peculiarity of genius which is unmistakably 
stamped on the works, and even on the physiog 
nomy, of him who is gifted with it. At the same 
time it is obvious that a double intellect like this 
must, as a rule, obstruct the service of the will; 
and this explains the poor capacity often shown 
by genius in the conduct of life. And what spe 
cially characterizes genius is that it has none of that 
sobriety of temper which is always to be found in 
the ordinary simple intellect, be it acute or dull, 


The brain may be likened to a parasite which 
is nourished as a part of tb- human frame without 
contributing directly to its inner economy; it is 
securely housed in the topmost story, and there 
leads a self-sufficient and independent life. In the 
same way it may be said that a man endowed with 
great mental gifts leads, apart from the individual 
life common to all, a second life, purely of the in 
tellect. He devotes himself to the constant in 
crease, rectification and extension, not of mere 
learning, but of real systematic knowledge and 
insight; and remains untouched by the fate that 
overtakes him personally, so long as it does not 
disturb him in his work. It is thus a life which 
raises a man and sets him above fate and its 
changes. Always thinking, learning, experiment 
ing, practicing his knowledge, the man soon comes 
to look upon this second life as the chief mode of 
existence, and his merely personal life as some 
thing subordinate, serving only to advance ends 
higher than itself. 

An example of this independent, separate ex 
istence is furnished by Goethe. During the war in 
the Champagne, and amid all the bustle of the 
camp, he made observations for his theory of color; 
and as soon as the numberless calamities of that 
war allowed of his retiring for a short time to the 
fortress of Luxembourg, he took up the manu 
script of his Farbenlehre. This is an example 
which we, the salt of the earth, should endeavor to 
follow, by never letting anything disturb us in the 
pursuit of our intellectual life, however much the 
storm of the world may invade and agitate our 
personal environment; always remembering that 
we are the sons, not of the bondwoman, but of the 
free. As our emblem and coat of arms, I propose 
a tree mightily shaken by the wind, but still bearing 


its ruddy fruit on every branch; with the motto 
Dum convellor mitescunt, or Conquassata sed 

That purely intellectual life of the individual has 
its counterpart in humanity as a whole. For there, 
too, the real life is the life of the will, both in the 
empirical and in the transcendental meaning of 
the word. The purely intellectual life of human 
ity lies in its effort to increase knowledge by means 
of the sciences, and its desire to perfect the arts. 
Both science and art thus advance slowly from one 
generation to another, and grow with the centuries, 
every race as it hurries by furnishing its contribu 
tion. This intellectual life, like some gift from 
heaven, hovers over the stir and movement of the 
world; or it is, as it were, a sweet-scented air de 
veloped out of the ferment itself the real life of 
mankind, dominated by will; and side by side with 
the history of nations, the history of philosophy, 
science and art takes its innocent and bloodless 

The difference between the genius and the or 
dinary man is, no doubt, a quantitative one, m so 
far as it is a difference of degree ; but I am tempted 
to regard it also as qualitative, in view of the fact 
that ordinary minds, notwithstanding individual 
variation, have a certain tendency to think alike. 
Thus on similar occasions their thoughts at once 
all take a similar direction, and run on the same 
lines; and this explains why their judgments con 
stantly agree not, however, because they are based 
on truth. To such lengths does this go that certain 
fundamental views obtain amongst mankind at all 
times, and are always being repeated and brought 
forward anew, whilst the great minds of all ages 
are in open or secret opposition to them. 

A genius is a man in whose mind the world is 


presented as an object is presented in a mirror, 
but with a degree more of clearness and a greater 
distinction of outline than is attained by ordinary 
people. It is from him that humanity may look for 
most instruction; for the deepest insight into the 
most important matters is to be acquired, not by 
an observant attention to detail, but by a close 
study of things as a whole. And if his mind 
reaches maturity, the instruction he gives will be 
conveyed now in one form, now in another. Thus 
genius may be defined as an eminently clear con 
sciousness of things in general, and therefore, also 
of that which is opposed to them, namely, one s own 

The world looks up to a man thus endowed, and 
expects to learn something about life and its real 
nature. But several highly favorable circumstances 
must combine to produce genius, and this is a very 
rare event. It happens only now and then, let 
us say once in a century, that a man is born 
whose intellect so perceptibly surpasses the normal 
measure as to amount to that second faculty which 
seems to be accidental, as it is out of all relation 
to the will. He may remain a long time without 
being recognized or appreciated, stupidity prevent 
ing the one and envy the other. But should this 
once come to pass, mankind will crowd round him 
and his works, in the hope that he may be able to 
enlighten some of the darkness of their existence 
or inform them about it. His message is, to some 
extent, a revelation, and he himself a higher being, 
even though he may be but little above the ordinary 

Like the ordinary man, the genius is what he is 
chiefly for himself. This is essential to his nature : 
a fact which can neither be avoided nor altered. 
What he may be for others remains a matter of 


chance and of secondary importance. In no case 
can people receive from his mind more than a re 
flection, and then only when he joins with them in 
the attempt to get his thought into their heads; 
where, however, it is never anything but an exotic 
plant, stunted and frail. 

In order to have original, uncommon, and per 
haps even immortal thoughts, it is enough to 
estrange oneself so fully from the world of things 
for a few moments, that the most ordinary objects 
and events appear quite new and unfamiliar. In 
this way their true nature is disclosed. What is 
here demanded cannot, perhaps, be said to be diffi 
cult; it is not in our power at all, but is just the 
province of genius. 

By itself, genius can produce original thoughts 
just as little as a woman by herself can bear 
children. Outward circumstances must come to 
fructify genius, and be, as it were, a father to its 

The mind of genius is among other minds what 
the carbuncle is among precious stones: it sends 
forth light of its own, while the others reflect only 
that which they have received. The relation of the 
genius to the ordinary mind may also be described 
as that of an idio-electrical body to one which 
merely is a conductor of electricity. 

The mere man of learning, who spends his life 
in teaching what he has learned, is not strictly to 
be called a man of genius; just as idio-electrical 
bodies are not conductors. Nay, genius stands to 
mere learning as the words to the music in a song. 
A man of learning is a man who has learned a 
great deal; a man of genius, one from whom we 
learn something which the genius has learned from 
nobody. Great minds, of which there is scarcely 
one in a hundred millions, are thus the lighthouses 


of humanity; and without them mankind would 
lose itself in the boundless sea of monstrous error 
and bewilderment. 

And so the simple man of learning, in the strict 
sense of the word the ordinary professor, for in 
stance looks upon the genius much as we look 
upon a hare, which is good to eat after it has been 
killed and dressed up. So long as it is alive, it is 
only good to shoot at. 

He who wishes to experience gratitude from his 
contemporaries, must adjust his pace to theirs. 
But great things are never produced in this w r ay. 
And he who wants to do great things must direct his 
gaze to posterity, and in firm confidence elaborate 
his work for coming generations. No doubt, the 
result may be that he will remain quite unknown 
to his contemporaries, and comparable to a man 
who, compelled to spend his life upon a lonely 
island, with great effort sets up a monument there, 
to transmit to future sea-farers the knowledge of his 
existence. If he thinks it a hard fate, let him con 
sole himself with the reflection that the ordinary 
man who lives for practical aims only, often suf 
fers a like fate, without having any compensation 
to hope for; inasmuch as he may, under favorable 
conditions, spend a life of material production, 
earning, buying, building, fertilizing, laying out, 
founding, establishing, beautifying with daily effort 
and unflagging zeal, and all the time think that he 
is working for himself; and yet in the end it is his 
descendants who reap the benefit of it all, and 
sometimes not even his descendants. It is the same 
with the man of genius; he, too, hopes for his re 
ward and for honor at least ; and at last finds that he 
has worked for posterity alone. Both, to be sure, 
have inherited a great deal from their ancestors. 

The compensation I have mentioned as the privi- 


lege of genius lies, not in what it is to others, but 
in what it is to itself. What man has in any 
real sense lived more than he whose moments of 
thought make their echoes heard through the tumult 
of centuries? Perhaps, after all, it would be the 
best thing for a genius to attain undisturbed pos 
session of himself, by spending his life in enjoying 
the pleasure of his own thoughts, his own works, 
and by admitting the world only as the heir of his 
ample existence. Then the world would find the 
mark of his existence only after his death, as it 
finds that of the Ichnolith. 1 

It is not only in the activity of his highest powers 
that the genius surpasses ordinary people. A man 
who is unusually well-knit, supple and agile, will 
perform all his movements with exceptional ease, 
even with comfort, because he takes a direct 
pleasure in an activity for which he is particularly 
well-equipped, and therefore often exercises it 
without any object. Further, if he is an acrobat 
or a dancer, not only does he take leaps which 
other people cannot execute, but he also betrays 
rare elasticity and agility in those easier steps 
which others can also perform, and even in ordinary 
walking. In the same way a man of superior mind 
will not only produce thoughts and works which 
could never have come from another; it will not 
be here alone that he will show his greatness; but 
as knowledge and thought form a mode of activity 
natural and easy to him, he will also delight himself 
in them at all times, and so apprehend small mat 
ters which are within the range of other minds, 
more easily, quickly and correctly than they. Thus 
he will take a direct and lively pleasure in every 

1 Translator s Note. For an illustration of this feeling in 
poetry, Schopenhauer refers the reader to Byron s Prophecy of 
Dante: introd. to C. 4. 


increase of knowledge, every problem solved, every 
witty thought, whether of his own or another s: 
and so his mind will have no further aim than to 
Jb? constantly active. This will be an inexhaustible 
spring of delight; and boredom, that spectre which 
haunts the ordinary man, can never come near him. 

Then, too, the masterpieces of past and con 
temporary men of genius exist in their fullness for 
him alone. If a great product of genius is recom 
mended to the ordinary, simple mind, it will take 
as much pleasure in it as the victim of gout receives 
in being invited to a ball. The one goes for the 
sake of formality, and the other reads the book so 
as not to be in arrear. For La Bruyere was quite 
right when he said: All the wit in the world is lost 
upon him who has none. The whole range of 
thought of a man of talent, or of a genius, compared 
with the thoughts of the common man, is, even 
when directed to objects essentially the same, like 
a brilliant oil-painting, full of life, compared with 
a mere outline or a weak sketch in water-color. 

All this is part of the reward of genius, and 
compensates him for a lonely existence in a world 
with which he has nothing in common and no 
sympathies. But since size is relative, it comes to 
the same thing whether I say, Caius was a great 
man, or Caius has to live amongst wretchedly 
small people: for Brobdingnack and Lilliput vary 
only in the point from which they start. However 
great, then, howeyer admirable or instructive, a 
long posterity may think the author of immortal 
works, during his lifetime he will appear to his 
contemporaries small, wretched, and insipid in pro 
portion. This is what I mean by saying that as 
there are three hundred degrees from the base of 
a tower to the summit, so there are exactly three 
hundred from the summit to the base. Great minds 


thus owe little ones some indulgence; for it is only 
in virtue of these little minds that they themselves 
are great. 

Let us, then, not be surprised if we find men of 
genius generally unsociable and repellent. It is 
not their want of sociability that is to blame. Their 
path through the world is like that of a man who 
goes for a walk on a bright summer morning. He 
gazes with delight on the beauty and freshness of 
nature, but he has to rely wholly on that for en 
tertainment; for he can find no society but the 
peasants as they bend over the earth and cultivate 
the soil. It is often the case that a great mind 
prefers soliloquy to the dialogue he may have in 
this world. If he condescends to it now and then, 
the hollowness of it may possibly drive him back 
to his soliloquy; for in forgetfulness of his inter* 
locutor, or caring little whether he understands or 
not, he talks to him as a child talks to a doll. 

Modesty in a great mind would, no doubt, be 
pleasing to the world; but, unluckily, it is a con- 
tradictio in adjecto. It would compel a genius to 
give the thoughts and opinions, nay, even the 
method and style, of the million preference over 
his own; to set a higher value upon them; and, 
wide apart as they are, to bring his views into har 
mony with theirs, or even suppress them altogether, 
so as to let the others hold the field. In that case, 
however, he would either produce nothing at all, 
or else his achievements would be just upon a level 
with theirs. Great, genuine and extraordinary 
work can be done only in so far as its author dis 
regards the method, the thoughts, the opinions of 
his contemporaries, and quietly works on, in spite 
of their criticism, on his side despising what they 
praise. No one becomes great without arrogance 
of this sort. Should his life and work fall upon a 


time which cannot recognize and appreciate him, 
he is at any rate true to himself; like some noble 
traveler forced to pass the night in a miserable inn ; 
when morning comes, he contentedly goes his way. 

A poet or philosopher should have no fault to 
find with his age if it only permits him to do his 
work undisturbed in his own corner; nor with his 
fate if the corner granted him allows of his follow 
ing his vocation without having to think about other 

For the brain to be a mere laborer in the service 
of the belly, is indeed the common lot of almost 
all those who do not live on the work of their 
hands; and they are far from being discontented 
with their lot. But it strikes despair into a man of 
great mind, whose brain-power goes beyond the 
measure necessary for the service of the will; and 
he prefers, if need be, to live in the narrowest cir 
cumstances, so long as they afford him the free 
use of his time for the development and applica 
tion of his faculties; in other words, if they give 
him the leisure which is invaluable to him. 

It is otherwise with ordinary people: for them 
leisure has no value in itself, nor is it, indeed, with 
out its dangers, as these people seem to know. The 
technical work of our time, which is done to an 
unprecedented perfection, has, by increasing and 
multiplying objects of luxury, given the favorites 
of fortune a choice between more leisure and cul 
ture upon the one side, and additional luxury and 
good living, but with increased activity, upon the 
other; and, true to their character, they choose the 
latter, and prefer champagne to freedom. And 
they are consistent in their choice; for, to them, 
every exertion of the mind which does not serve 
the aims of the will is folly. Intellectual effort for 
its own sake, they call eccentricity. Therefore, 


persistence in the aims of the will and the belly 
will be concentricity; and, to be sure, the will is the 
centre, the kernel of the world. 

But in general it is very seldom that any such 
alternative is presented. For as with money, most 
men have no superfluity, but only just enough for 
their needs, so with intelligence; they possess just 
what will suffice for the service of the will, that is, 
for the carrying on of their business. Having 
made their fortune, they are content to gape or to 
indulge in sensual pleasures or childish amuse 
ments, cards or dice ; or they will talk in the dullest 
way, or dress up and make obeisance to one an 
other. And how few are those who have even a 
little superfluity of intellectual power! Like the 
others they too make themselves a pleasure; but it 
is a pleasure of the intellect. Either they will 
pursue some liberal study which brings them in 
nothing, or they will practice some art; and in 
general, they will be capable of taking an objective 
interest in things, so that it will be possible to con 
verse with them. But with the others it is better 
not to enter into any relations at all; for, except 
when they tell the results of their own experience 
or give an account of their special vocation, or at 
any rate impart what they have learned from some 
one else, their conversation will not be worth listen 
ing to; and if anything is said to them, they will 
rarely grasp or understand it aright, and it will in 
most cases be opposed to their own opinions. Bal 
thazar Gracian describes them very strikingly as 
men who are not men hombres che non lo son. 
And Giordano Bruno says the same thing: What 
a difference there is in having to do with men com- 
pared with those who are only made in their image 
and likeness! 1 And how wonderfully this passage 
* Opera: ed. Wagner, I. 224. 


agrees with that remark in the Kurral: The com 
mon people look like men but I have never seen 
anything quite like them. If the reader will con 
sider the extent to which these ideas agree in 
thought and even in expression, and in the wide 
difference between them in point of date and na 
tionality, he cannot doubt but that they are at one 
with the facts of life. It was certainly not under 
the influence of those passages that, about twenty 
years ago, I tried to get a snuff-box made, the lid 
of which should have two fine chestnuts repre 
sented upon it, if possible in mosaic; together with 
a leaf which was to show that they were horse- 
chestnuts. This symbol was meant to keep the 
thought constantly before my mind. If anyone 
wishes for entertainment, such as will prevent him 
feeling solitary even when he is alone, let me rec 
ommend the company of dogs, whose moral and 
intellectual qualities may almost afford delight and 

Still, we should always be careful to avoid being 
unjust. I am often surprised by the cleverness, 
and now and again by the stupidity of my dog; 
and I have similar experiences with mankind. 
Countless times, in indignation at their incapacity, 
their total lack of discernment, their bestiality, I 
have been forced to echo the old complaint that 
folly is the mother and the nurse of the human 

Humani generis mater nutrixque profecto 
Stultitia est. 

But at other times I have been astounded that 
from such a race there could have gone forth so 
many arts and sciences, abounding in so much use 
and beauty, even though it has always been the few 
that produce them. Yet these arts and sciences 
have struck root, established and perfected them- 


selves : and the race has with persistent fidelity pre 
served Homer, Plato, Horace and others for thou 
sands of years, by copying and treasuring their 
writings, thus saving them from oblivion, in spite 
of all the evils and atrocities that have happened 
in the world. Thus the race has proved that it 
appreciates the value of these things, and at the 
same time it can form a correct view of special 
achievements or estimate signs of judgment and 
intelligence. When this takes place amongst those 
who belong to the great multitude, it is by a kind 
of inspiration. Sometimes a correct opinion will 
be formed by the multitude itself; but this is only 
when the chorus of praise has grown full and com 
plete. It is then like the sound of untrained 
voices ; where there are enough of them, it is always 

Those who emerge from the multitude, those 
who are called men of genius, are merely the lucida 
intervalla of the whole human race. They achieve 
that which others could not possibly achieve. Their 
originality is so great that not only is their diver 
gence from others obvious, but their individuality 
is expressed with such force, that all the men of 
genius who have ever existed show, every one of 
them, peculiarities of character and mind; so that 
the gift of his works is one which he alone of all men 
could ever have presented to the world. This is 
what makes that simile of Ariosto s so true and so 
justly celebrated: Natura lo fece e poi ruppe lo 
stampo. After Nature stamps a man of genius, 
she breaks the die. 

But there is always a limit to human capacity; 
and no one can be a great genius without having 
some decidedly weak side, it may even be, some in 
tellectual narrowness. In other words, there will 
be some faculty in which he is now and then inferior 


to men of moderate endowments. It will be a 
faculty which, if strong, might have been an ob 
stacle to the exercise of the qualities in which he 
excels. What this weak point is, it will always be 
hard to define w r ith any accuracy even in a given 
case. It may be better expressed indirectly; thus 
Plato s weak point is exactly that in which Aristotle 
is strong, and vice versa; and so, too, Kant is defi 
cient just where Goethe is great. 

Now, mankind is fond of venerating something; 
but its veneration is generally directed to the wrong 
object, and it remains so directed until posterity 
comes to set it right. But the educated public is 
no sooner set right in this, than the honor which is 
due to genius degenerates; just as the honor which 
the faithful pay to their saints easily passes into a 
frivolous worship of relics. Thousands of Chris 
tians adore the relics of a saint whose life and doc 
trine are unknown to them; and the religion of 
thousands of Buddhists lies more in veneration of 
the Holy Tooth or some such object, or the vessel 
that contains it, or the Holy Bowl, or the fossil 
footstep, or the Holy Tree which Buddha planted, 
than in the thorough knowledge and faithful prac 
tice of his high teaching. Petrarch s house in 
Arqua; Tasso s supposed prison in Ferrara; Shake 
speare s house in Stratford, with his chair; Goethe s 
house in Weimar, with its furniture; Kant s old 
hat; the autographs of great men; these things are 
gaped at with interest and awe by many who have 
never read their works. They cannot do anything 
more than just gape. 

The intelligent amongst them are moved by the 
wish to see the objects which the great man habitu 
ally had before his eyes; and by a strange illusion, 
these produce the mistaken notion that with the ob- 
iects they are bringing back the man himself, or 


that something of him must cling to them. Akin to 
such people are those who earnestly strive to 
acquaint themselves with the subject-matter of a 
poet s works, or to unravel the personal circum 
stances and events in his life which have suggested 
particular passages. This is as though the audi 
ence in a theatre were to admire a fine scene and 
then rush upon the stage to look at the scaffolding 
that supports it. There are in our day enough 
instances of these critical investigators, and they 
prove the truth of the saying that mankind is in 
terested, not in the form of a work, that is, in its 
manner of treatment, but in its actual matter. All 
it cares for is the theme. To read a philosopher s 
biography, instead of studying his thoughts, is like 
neglecting a picture and attending only to the style 
of its frame, debating whether it is carved well or 
ill, and how much it cost to gild it. 

This is all very well. However, there is another 
class of persons whose interest is also directed to 
material and personal considerations, but they go 
much further and carry it to a point where it be 
comes absolutely futile. Because a great man has 
opened up to them the treasures of his inmost being, 
and, by a supreme effort of his faculties, produced 
works which not only redound to their elevation 
and enlightenment, but will also benefit their pos 
terity to the tenth and twentieth generation; be 
cause he has presented mankind with a matchless 
gift, these varlets think themselves justified in 
sitting in judgment upon his personal morality, 
and trying if they cannot discover here or there 
some spot in him which will soothe the pain they 
feel at the sight of so great a mind, compared with 
the overwhelming feeling of their own nothingness. 

This is the real source of all those prolix discus 
sions, carried on in countless books and reviews, on 


the moral aspect of Goethe s life, and whether he 
ought not to have married one or other of the 
girls with whom he fell in love in his young days; 
whether, again, instead of honestly devoting him 
self to the service of his master, he should not have 
been a man of the people, a German patriot, worthy 
of a seat in the Paulskirche, and so on. Such cry 
ing ingratitude and malicious detraction prove that 
these self -constituted judges are as great knaves 
morally as they are intellectually, which is saying 
a great deal. 

A man of talent will strive for money and repu 
tation; but the spring that moves genius to the 
production of its works is not as easy to name. 
Wealth is seldom its reward. Nor is it reputation 
or glory; only a Frenchman could mean that. 
Glory is such an uncertain thing, and, if you look 
at it closely, of so little value. Besides it never 
corresponds to the effort you have made : 

Responsura tuo nunquam est par fama labori. 

Nor, again, is it exactly the pleasure it gives you; 
for this is almost outweighed by the greatness of 
the effort. It is rather a peculiar kind of instinct, 
which drives the man of genius to give permanent 
form to what he sees and feels, without being con 
scious of any further motive. It works, in the 
main, by a necessity similar to that which makes 
a tree bear its fruit; and no external condition is 
needed but the ground upon which it is to thrive. 
On a closer examination, it seems as though, in 
the case of a genius, the will to live, which is the 
spirit of the human species, were conscious of 
having, by some rare chance, and for a brief period, 
attained a greater clearness of vision, and were 
now trying to secure it, or at least the outcome of 
it, for the whole species, to which the individual 


genius in his inmost being belongs; so that the 
light which he sheds about him may pierce the 
darkness and dullness of ordinary human conscious 
ness and there produce some good effect. 

Arising in some such way, this instinct drives 
the genius to carry his work to completion, without 
thinking of reward or applause or sympathy; to 
leave all care for his own personal welfare ; to make 
his life one of industrious solitude, and to strain his 
faculties to the utmost. He thus comes to think 
more about posterity than about contemporaries; 
because, while the latter can only lead him astray, 
posterity forms the majority of the species, and 
time will gradually bring the discerning few who 
can appreciate him. Meanwhile it is with him as 
with the artist described by Goethe; he has no 
princely patron to prize his talents, no friend to 
rejoice with him: 

Ein Fiirst der die Talent e scliatzt, 
Ein Freund, der sich mit mir ergotzt, 
Die haben leider mir gefehlt. 

His work is, as it were, a sacred object and the 
true fruit of his life, and his aim in storing it away 
for a more discerning posterity will be to make 
it the property of mankind. An aim like this far 
surpasses all others, and for it he wears the crown 
of thorns which is one day to bloom into a wreath 
of laurel. All his powers are concentrated in the 
effort to complete and secure his work; just as the 
insect, in the last stage of its development, uses 
its whole strength on behalf of a brood it will never 
live to see; it puts its eggs in some place of safety, 
where, as it well knows, the young will one day 
find life and nourishment, and then dies in con 

Schopenhauer, Arthur